With a smorgasbord of musicians spread across Southern California for the annual NAMM convention, Joseph Arthur once again found himself west of the 405 freeway for a night of hilarious comedy. Did I say comedy? I meant music. To be fair the intimate late night set at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica was a 50/50 split of both, much to the delight of those who politely turned off their phones and turned their focus onto the man who had recently returned from a trip to Mexico.
The nearly two hour set kicked off well past the advertised 10pm start time with Blue Lights In The Rear View. On stage alone in a bright red jacket and beat up hat upon his head, Arthur strummed the self-described Bonnie & Clyde tale using a guitar straight off the wall of the store (the acoustic instrument still had a price tag attached). Jokes came as rapidly as songs during the brief solo section of the show. When not referencing Mexico during the haunting Speed of Light, he was sharing tales of hitting it off with Sammy Hagar’s guitar tech. With Hagar being a recurring topic of banter through the night, I will fully admit that it was me who screamed out the request for I Can’t Drive 55 when Arthur asked what he should play after a powerful take on A Smile That Explodes. Arthur instead decided to play his breakout hit In The Sun for the audience filled with the 50+ demographic that allows him to make a humble living.
Even before In The Sun wrapped, Arthur began to bring friends out on stage. Grabbing C.C. White from the front row, she sang backup on In The Sun, while Bill Dobrow and Jonny Polonsky joined on percussion and bass respectively as soon as the song wrapped. For the next hour, the four musicians (who couldn’t decide if they wanted to be called Chickenshit or Chickenhead based off Arthur’s continued discussion of Hagar and his project Chickenfoot) focused on choice cuts from Arthur’s 2013 masterpiece The Ballad of Boogie Christ. With literally 25 minutes of practice with Polonsky (who has performed with everyone from Puscifer to Neil Diamond over the years), the set was loose, yet never in danger of derailing. His low end supplemented Arthur’s lead licks on standout songs such as The Ballad of Boogie Christ, I Used To Know How To Walk On Water, Currency of Love, and Black Flowers. While Arthur may not have received the enthused reaction he expected when he announced that the true story King Of Cleveland would be closing the set, it may have been that the crowd was still taking in the painting he completed during the loop heavy rendition of I Miss The Zoo.
After an ever so brief break, Arthur returned for a lengthy encore that consisted of classics from the back catalogue, comparisons of Sylvester Stallone to Bruce Springsteen, and a very special tribute to Lou Reed. A fan of the recent boxing film Grudge Match, Arthur confessed that Black Lexus was a true story before performing the song. However, the highlight of the evening was not Arthur sharing how he doesn’t use a teleprompter like older rock stars as he struggled to fulfill a request for Even Tho. The highlight was his moving tribute to Lou Reed with his first ever public performance of Walk On The Wild Side. With lyrics written down on a massive piece of cardboard, Arthur struggled yet never fell flat on his face in paying tribute to one of his heroes. In fact, on a night where his backing band sounded remarkably tight for such little practice, the vulnerability and sincerity within the cover was a welcome breath of fresh air.
Questioning if Santa Monica was part of Los Angeles (editors note: it is its own city and not part of Los Angeles, despite what most of the crowd claimed) Arthur shared his love for the Golden State before calling it a night. Not much happens west of the 405 when it comes to music in Southern California. Arthur even mentioned he hasn’t done much performance wise in Santa Monica. However, with plenty of performances in Venice over the years, it’s always a special occasion when Arthur visits out little corner of the world. As the rest of the 50+ AARP demographic inside McCabe’s would confirm, Arthur’s mix of comedy and music was a welcome treat to our neighborhood and we all eagerly await his triumphant return to Pico Boulevard.