Joseph Arthur & Friends

(with  The Dough Rollers, Penelope Fortier and Harper Simon)

The Stronghold – Venice, CA 04/16/10

Words/Photos/Video by

While most Southern California music fans flocked to the desert for Coachella, I mooched yet another ride to Venice off my wonderful wife.  Sure, it would be fun to see the likes of DJ Lance Rock and Jay-Z amongst the lush green polo fields and towering palm trees; but when it comes to Friday nights in April there is no place I would rather be then The Stronghold.  With it being the third week of a month long residency, I just had to see what the amazing Joseph Arthur would pull out of his sleeve.  While expectations were high, I found myself watching a set that was nothing short of a train-wreck.  Perhaps this sounds bad to the common reader, which is all the more reason I encourage you to go out and buy the mans entire catalogue.  After all, when life gives Joseph Arthur lemons, he will take those lemons, make a bike helmet out of the peels, plant the seeds out back to grow new trees and of course make a damn tasty pitcher of lemonade.
Despite showing up much later than the previous week, I was once again the front of the line (which was fine, as I was able to hear a sound-check that included “Black Lexus“).  After a nice conversation about drying Iphones that have gone swimming in toilets, the very kind doorman let me up into the venue.  Much to my shock, the wonderful couches from the week before were moved back against the walls instead of being right in front of the stage.  I ended up sitting on the back couch watching as the few hipsters left in Los Angeles County began to fill the room.  Within 15 minutes of doors being opened, it was time for the first musical guest of the night.
The Dough Rollers
I really thought the two men on stage said there name was the Dough Boys (The Dough Rollers).  I have looked all over the Internet trying to find something about these two, but have failed.  Shame too, as the duo was very entertaining.  Nothing more than two white guys in nice suits channeling dead delta blues-men.  At first I felt as if it was a tad cheesy and forced, but after about song two or three, I realized these two were the read deal.  With covers (and perhaps originals, I am not sure) such as “Move To Alabama” and “Railroad Blues” these two truly felt natural playing the gospel-tinged blues.  I would be very excited to see them again.

Penelope Fortier

After a quick set change, a female with a guitar hoped up on stage.  Introduced only as Penelope, the shy song bird was joined by both Rami Jaffee and Jenny Greene (who had sat in with Aurthur the week before).  I don’t see how anyone could not instantly fall in love with Penelope.  I mean heck, it’s not everyday you get to have a beautiful French woman sing you love songs in her native tongue.  Knowing that I can hardly speak English, sadly I don’t know any of the song titles (let alone spell them).  I will say that with a powerful voice and solid guitar technique, the entire crowd at The Stronghold were robbed that she was only had time to perform three songs.

Joseph Arthur & Friends
Guitar: Joel Shearer
Drums: Brendan Buckley
Bass: Jonny Polonsky
Violin: Jessy Greene
Keyboard: Rami Jaffee
Vocals: C.C. White & Sibyl Buck

When I walked into the intimate venue, I noticed a lot more equipment up on stage then the week prior.  I had assumed that it was for an opening act, but when Penelope had announced that Joseph Arthur was up next it became clear that we would indeed be guided on a very different musical journey.  While the venues sound-man does assist in helping set up, the musicians serve as their own roadies.  As the seven musicians were getting ready to begin, it became clear gremlins were already present within the tangled web of patch chords and power supplies that make up Arthurs massive pedal board.  Once the issue appeared to be solved, Arthur lead his friends (which included Rami Jaffee, Jessy Greene, Sibyl Buck in addition to some local musicians assembled by Jaffee) into the unknown with the powerful “Tattoo.”

Before Arthur was able to begin the third song of the night – “Slide Away” a lengthy delay occurred as a result of the earlier mentioned gremlins.   A frustrated Arthur pulled chords out and replaced, hit buttons and unplugged/replugged power sources before finally discovering a faulty effects processor.  When he was finally able to perform “Slide Away” Arthur invited a young woman from the audience up on stage (Update 06/30/11 – C.C. White is the vocalist) who added a soulful vocal jam towards the end of the song.  The singer managed to breathe new life into the song, creating a very unique moment that I am thankful I was able to witness.

Early in the set, I began to wonder if perhaps Arthur had added a backing band that included bass, drums, guitar and Jaffee ditching his accordion for a keyboard to drown out the constant chatter that had occurred over the two previous Friday nights.  With almost every light in the venue powered down in addition to further sound issues, the over all mood of the night was very tenebrous.  Select, darker lines from songs like “Honey and the Moon” and “Faith” sent my mind into places I really didn’t expect it to go.  When you mix this with musicians who very well may not have all known each other the last time Arthur graced the tiny Venice, CA stage – you had a very almost punk rock feel.  You found yourself rooting for the musicians, always pondering if they would make it through a song, or if it would blow up in their faces.  The fact that it was so raw and rough around the edges made it feel Sunset Strip dangerous.
After a rocking jammed out version of “September Baby” Arthur left the stage and introduced a singer named Harper Simon (who according to Wikipedia is the son of Paul Simon).  Dressed in a plaid shirt, the singer performed two songs.  While I was not familiar with the first, the second number was a cover of The Buzzcocks classic Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?  It took me a minute before I recognized the song, and once the familiarity sank in my smile grew almost as large as the smile Simon was wearing the entire time he was on stage.
Once again, Arthur used the set to create a song on the spot (once again, I assume).  Not aware of the title, I am calling it “I Miss The Zoo”.  After creating a spacey solo over slightly delayed loops, Arthur sang lyrics confessing missing days of addiction.  Dark, depressing yet totally unique and absolutely powerful, this random act of art in the dark lit room ended up the no doubt about it highlight of Friday night.

Keeping his word from the week before that additional special guests would be welcomed – Arthur invited American songwriter, singer, musician, performer and composer for film, dance and theater (thanks Wikipedia) artist David Poe to the stage.  Poe lead the band through a boogie-licious blues stomp called “Joy”.  While I am unfamiliar with the song, it was perhaps the most upbeat moment of the night.

The night wrapped up soon after with Arthur building his loops for “Lack A Vision.”  Once completed (and after knocking over his mic stand – some nights you just can’t win) Arthur brought his easel onto the very packed stage to finish his painting (which featured the names of the various musicians who had shared the stage).  Blowing through his harmonica and singing into the mic, Arthur doodled, painted over existing lines and finished a painting unlike any other of his I had seen.  Much like the music, the work seemed jagged, unsure of what it wanted to be.  What struck me the most was not giving up.  Arthur and his friends fought on all night, and while often frustrated, the art never suffered.  The struggle created beauty that would have never been found if this was a solo acoustic show.  What made the night so magical was watching these musicians discover each other.  Often you could watch one musician squint across the dark stage to confirm they were indeed playing the same chords.  I recently heard a friend say about his child that you can not learn to walk without a few bumps from falling down.  This perfectly sums up week three of Joseph Arthur’s residency – and I can not wait to see what’s in store for our final Friday together.