Joseph Arthur & The Fairy-Moans (w/ Chris Joyner) 04/23/10
The Stronghold – Venice, CA
Words/Photos/Videos by concertconfessions.com
To say my life has been flipped upside down this week would be a colossal understatement. With my mind somewhere far away, I stood against the brick building that is The Stronghold unaware that Joseph Arthur was about to invade my personal thoughts and help sooth some very mixed emotions. Standing outside on yet another chilly spring night, the entertainment started long before the doors opened. Patron after patron approached the door trying to get into the venue with no success. Each time, the door man would turn them away, and each time the same conversation would occur:
Patron (with a very confident look upon their face): But, but I’m on the guest list.
Door man: That’s nice, so are the other 150 people in line
Patron: So, I have to line up?
Door man: You got it.
Based off the simple natured fans, I assumed that Chris Joyner would be some kind of Jack Johnson laid back three chord surfer bum that drives the ladies/Asian-Americans crazy. When the doors opened about 10 minutes late, many fans were in a panic that they were about to miss Joyner. Not worried at all, I walked up the stairs and to my delight discovered that the couches from the first week (as well as a lazy boy chair) had returned to the front of the stage. I plopped down in the lazy boy (since I was once again flying solo) and watched Joyner panic that his large fan base would not make it in before he was scheduled to start. By the time the music did get underway (after apologies from Joyner for the wait) I got the panic within seconds.
Holy smokes – of all the opening acts I have seen over the past few weeks – Chris Joyner was hands down the best. Not that other acts were bad, but they can’t even compete with Joyner. Backed by a bassist, guitarist and some dude beating on a box, for approximately 30 minutes Joyner lead his band through a set of Wurlitzer fueled funk/soul/hippie jams. The secret weapon in this musical outlet is clearly guitarist JinSoo Lim. A mix of Duane Allman and Trey Anastasio, the modest player laid down epic solo after epic solo much to the delight of all in attendance. I could listen to that man play all day and never get sick of his licks, and the kicker is that he does it straight faced with great ease. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Joyner’s set (besides the music) was how quiet his fans were. For those who have read my reviews or seen any of my videos the past few weeks – you know The Stronghold is a chatty venue. During Joyner’s set – you could hear a pin drop. Nothing but respect from his fans, which now includes me amongst their ranks.
After a fairly quick set change (considering how much equipment had to me moved) Joseph and his mad mob of musicians took to the stage for a “sound-check.” After a quick warm up jam, Arthur (who was a total chatter box all night – unlike I have ever seen him be) addressed the crowd:
Are you the light? Are you guys inspiration personified? Magic and glowing before us all? That’s what we inspire to be for you.
Understatement of the residency here. It’s hard not to be inspired to live life a little harder after watching Arthur do what he does. Still “sound-checking” Arthur and friends launched into a soft song that I was unfamiliar with (it is unreleased and it the tentative title is “This Is Still My World” per twitter user @_benzo). It was absolutly beautiful and got my mind right back on the same thoughts that have now haunted it for nearly a week (or is it four years?). I will be honest, I always sucked at analyzing books or lyrics or whatever. I tend to just take little snippets and relate to my day. While “You Are Free” probably has nothing to do with what I had on my mind, I’m no longer who I was – no longer who I thought I was sure as hell haunted my mind.
If Arthur’s performance the prior week was a bit of a technical train wreck, this week felt as if the band had been on tour for three years. “Vacancy” was a real spaced out deep sea kind of affair that comforted my chemical confusion. Kicked off with only Arthur on acoustic guitar “Famous Friends From The Coast” built up into a huge roots-rocking romp that was rich with melody. Taking an accordion break on the couch to my left, Arthur joked that he was singing “Even Tho” for Rami Jaffee. The song morphed into a slow sustained kind of jam that slowly grew in speed as Arthur lead with a sitar-sounding solo. I swear at one point guitarist Joel Shearer threw in some “Shakedown Street” teases during the disgustingly sick jam.
Much to my shock, Arthur announced that his new band would be going on summer tour with Phish (of course this was when I had my camera turned off – FAIL). The band discussed briefly the name Phish and debated if they could legally use it as part of their name. I am going to assume coincidence that Arthur then talked about David Bowie as his hilarious introduction to “All The Old Heroes”. Yet what happened next made me realize that Arthur could probably win over a Phish crowd. “Black Lexus” became a massive bonnaroo-caliber hippie jam. If I had to guess, I would say it went 10-12 minutes long. Between Phish 3D and this show, I have done my fair share of noodle dancing via chair this week.
Before taking some fan requests, Arthur announced his backing bands name. It’s best that I let him explain:
More hilarious stage banter preceded the first request – “Birthday Card.” Fairy Moans did not allow the fact they didn’t know the song to stop them from creating perhaps the hardest rocking balls to the wall version of the song to date. A bit later, Joseph passed his guitar to backing vocalist Sibyl Buck who then nervously lead the band through a song. Keeping up with the requests, the sound-check (as mentioned by drummer Brendan Buckley) carried on with an electrified version of “Slide Away.”
It was about 12:40 AM Saturday when the sound-check finally ended. Someone from the crowd screamed for a keyboard solo and Jaffee was happy to begin to play a clunky chord progression. Very soon, Arthur jumped in, singing/talking sporadic lines over the almost toy piano melodies. The song – “A Pig In The Mouth of China” eventually a psychotic/psychedelic romp that would make Pink Floyd and the Flaming Lips proud. It was pure genius, and well worth the 35 song sound-check.
The night finally wrapped with “Running Out of Time/I Love You – Thanks For Coming Out.” I have added the second title because Arthur sang a new song focused around that line within the existing song (battery died by this point so sadly no video). On a night where he played with my emotions, teased me with my favorite band to my face, stole my jokes and rocked my stinking socks off – the man is now singing “I Love You – Thanks For Coming Out”. Imagine that. Those words, if he only knew. While I appreciate the thanks, really anyone who made it into The Stronghold the last month should be thanking Joseph Arthur. I saw three totally different shows, all special, all unique and all amazing. With just a few days left before May, April 2010 has been one for the record books for me. When I grow old and look back to this point in life, Joseph Arthur will always be the soundtrack.
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.
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.
Joseph Arthur & Friends (w/ MK & the Gentlemen & “Juan” Y) 04/09/10
The Stronghold – Venice, CA
words/photos/videos by Reverend Justito/concertconfessions.com
Updated 06/28/11: The channel that hosted nearly 700 videos for Concert Confessions was removed from YouTube earlier this month. In re-uploading these videos, I discovered a video of “Juan.” As it turns out, “Juan” is actually “Y”. For those who have read my 2011 reviews of Joseph (which you can read here, here, here and here) you know it took me weeks to figure out his name. Originally, I did not upload the video of Y performing on April 9th (since I didn’t have a song title or proper name) but it has been included in this updated review. We hope you enjoy.
Over the months after myfirst Joseph Arthur show, I was angry. In the months since my second Joseph Arthur show, I have become geeky fan boy obsessed. I have hit both indie and big chain record stores filling the gaps in my compact disc (yes I still buy those) collection. I printed out some guitar tabs and began the process of learning how to personally butcher the music that I love so much. Most of all, I sat around dreaming about how I will get my next fix of the man live and in person. Much to my shock and delight, that chance not only came less than three months from the mind shattering Troubadour shows, but in the form of a month long residency less than five miles from home. While I was unable to make the first show due to a prior showcommitment, I squealed like a pig in mud when I saw that the final three shows were clear on my calendar. So with the work week in the rear view, I headed south to Venice on the second Friday in April eager to get a much needed fix of Joseph Arthur. Unknown to me, I was in for quite the fix as strange things are afoot at The Stronghold in Venice, CA.
Having no idea as to the start time, I showed up around 8:30pm. Clearly this was way too early so I walked up and down Abbot-Kinney debating which food truck to eat dinner at. After making my choice, I headed back and decided I would form the line while chowing down. At a time, I was a bit disappointed with myself. After all, I rushed out the door like a mad man to get down to the venue, only to have nothing to do for an hour but stuff my face with warm sushi and run down the battery on my iphone. The doors for the venue above a vintage clothing store finally opened about 9:45pm, and after making a $15 dollar donation I headed up the old wooden staircase. I was surprised to see that the venue was nothing more than a glorified loft with a tiny stage and two big brown leather couches nailed into the hard wood floors. It took me a second, but then a large smile slowly spread across my face. I made a b-line to the stage left couch and plopped down right in front of the mic stand (or as I discovered the best friggin seat in the house). I quickly made friends with two very intoxicated blondes who sat down next to me around the same time. Now that seat guarding was in place, I headed to the drink area, where I made a $10 donation for two cans of Turtle Piss Mexican Beer (thankfully, the party later upgraded to chilled cans of Tecate and Tecate Light).
As the loft began to fill, a band out of Venice called MK & The Gentlemen took the stage. Even if the music had sucked, I would encourage every straight single male within a 30 mile zone of any and all shows to check this band out. While I doubt I am the first to come up with the term TunaFest, it sure as hell sums up the crowd. As far as the music goes, it’s what you would expect from four dudes out of Venice. Laid back slow melody rich beach jams very similar to Jack Johnson. However, while it is easy to compare based off the overall sound, MK & The Gentlemen blow Jack Johnson away on a technical level. Within those laid back grooves are short and sudden bursts of almost hippie-esque noodle goodness. In fact, vocally the bands front man (MK I assume) reminded me a lot of Chuck Garvey from moe. While not my favorite style of music, MK & the Gentlemen really left a lasting impression, and not just because a large number of women in the crowd were moving and shaking across the dance floor. Jack Johnson is great in short bursts, but after 15 minutes it feels like the same song over and over which of course leaves to boredom. MK manage to mix it up from number to number without ever leaving their comfort zone. A middle eastern flavored song here, a heavy tribal grove there, I was entertained and even a little disappointed when they were told they only had time for one more. If you’re a fan of the O.A.R. Donovan FrankenCitizenCope surf bum prep hippie light jam acoustic bongo noodle rock sound (and I know some of you are) then MK & The Gentlemen are for you.
As beach dwelling hippies and/or hipsters sipped mixed drinks out of large Dixie paper cups, I took a moment to really soak in my surroundings. This wasn’t a show this was more of a party at some strangers house. Hell, there was a dog running around, you don’t see that shit at Club Nokia that’s for damn sure. It felt like the cops could bust in at any moment, and when not focused on the Christmas lights covering the spiral staircase behind the scare I was pondering if the old brick building could survive The Big One. Then there was the door with the sign that said “Artists Only” which had everyone and anyone walking in and out of it. Obsessive stalker fan boy took over as I had the perfect view of Arthur sitting on a couch getting ready to hit the stage. When he finally hit the stage it really hit me; I am about to watch Joseph Arthur rock someones living room.
Joined by Jessy Greene on violin and Rami Jaffee on accordion, Arthur kicked off the second night of his residency with “I Donated Myself To The Mexican Army.” I instantly wondered if perhaps it was an ode to the night’s beer stash? Towering above me, the lanky Arthur’s sang into the mic eyes closed focused only on the music. As party goers chatted at the same volume as the sounds coming from the tiny plywood stage, Arthur and company carried on. “September Baby” is one of the songs that has been on repeat in my mind since January, so I was thrilled when it made an early appearance. The few hipsters who made it out from Echo Park were equally as excited to hear a song named after their home town.
Still having a few gaps in my collection, Arthur played a lot of material I was unfamiliar with. Perhaps there were some new songs in there, I am not really sure. One song it almost appeared made up on the spot. After creating another trademark loop with his guitar, Arthur ripped some pages out of a notebook and began reading what seemed to be a poem. While both shows had a rabid fan base, this is something that would have never worked at The Troubadour, but was perfect for The Stronghold. It was also around this time that Arthur switched from acoustic to electric and the show went to a whole new level. While I can appreciate all of his music, I have always been drawn to the crazy riffs and loops that he creates. While he had used a Telecaster back in January, Arthur never really maximized it’s potential. I am unable to name what kind of guitar he had on this particular night, but with an unusually high amount of knobs and switches I can tell you that it was anything but ordinary. I had never realized just how hard Arthur can shred. Bending string and slamming down on a whammy bar, Arthur can really tear it up as a lead guitarist. In fact I am hard pressed to find anything this man can’t do?
As one of those assholes who lives on their cellphone, I noticed that fellow LA blogger/twitter palRock Is A Girl’s Best Friend was in the crowd and shared a pic. Low and behold she was standing right behind me. I quickly introduced myself between songs (as we had yet to actually meet in person), and sunk back into the coach around the time that Arthur brought out fellow Ohio rocker Greg Dulli (The Twilight Singers, The Afghan Whigs, The Gutter Twins). I have to assume the invite from Arthur was on the spot, as Dulli appeared hesitant in joining the fun. After discussing who would take the high road and who would take the low road vocally, the two voices blended together on “Take Me Home”. As Arthur began to finger pick out the opening notes on his guitar, Dulli clenched his can of beer, took a deep breath and eased right into the quiet number. A few songs later, Arthur was joined by local singer/songwriter Queen Kwong. A much bigger enthusiast of cats than myself, Kwong (real name Carré Callaway) encouraged the packed room to hush before she shared her soft song “Black Heart.” While I had mixed feelings about her performance last fall opening for Nine Inch Nails, on this particular night Kwong really sucked me into her world. Singing about breaking hearts, the tiny Kwong strummed an acoustic guitar with a body much larger than hers. You could really feel the vulnerability within the performance, and I must wonder if perhaps Kwong is better suited as a delicate singer songwriter vs. electric rocker grrrrrrrl?
With all the guests up on stage, it was an actress who made the biggest impression on my night. Out of nowhere appeared Emmy Award nominee Rosanna Arquette. Taking a seat on the floor in front of the stage towards the end of the set, Arquette managed to convice Arthur to play another song I am currently obsessed with “Redemption Son.” With the same acoustic used by Kwong now looking small on him, Arthur applied his capo and dove right in. With eyes closed Arthur begged for forgiveness into the mic and produced huge glowing smiles on the faces of both myself and Courtney Cox’s sister-in-law.
Dressed like a mix of Yoko Ono era John Lennon and Hunter S. Thompson, Arthur towards the end of the set allowed Greene to take center stage and lead the band for a song. It would be only minutes later that Arthur would end up closing his set with “Crying Like A Man.” Setting up another loop, Arthur put down his guitar and finished a painting which he started moments before the first notes rang from the stage. It was at this point that for the first time Greene, Jaffee and a fourth musician (who based off my observation may be an employee of the venue who helps as a stage hand etc) overpowered the music instead of complimenting it. As soon as Arthur completed the panting, he wished the crowd goodnight, leaving the others to provide a backdrop of melody before slowly exiting one by one. As soon as folks realized there would be no encore they slowly began to exit the loft. Despite a bladder full of canned Mexican goodness I was not ready to get up. I watched as various individuals raced to set up the stage for the next act, but really my mind needed a few solid moments to process what had just occurred. Here was a man who back in January created the best performance I have seen this decade, and before you can say Memorial Day he has gone and created something 100% different, yet equally as brilliant. While I eventually peeled myself off the couch, I was in no rush to go home. In fact, I ended up watching the entire next set that featured two gentlemen on guitars. Sadly I could never make out their name (I thought it was Juan, and when I confirmed with the singer, he said no, but if I wanted to call him that I could), but with the loft now only holding a handful of people, Arthur beat upon a single drum for most of their set.
With what appeared to be a fusion/reggae band setting up after “Juan” had wrapped up a humor filled set of indie folk songs, I had to tap out. With the rumor of Arthur wrapping up at 3am with a few solo acoustic songs, I really wanted to stay, but was drained from a long week. I convinced myself that this was OK, based off the fact that there is no way in hell I will not be there over the next two Friday night’s. In fact, if you’re game, I personally invite you to join me next Friday night to show up early (yes Los Angeles, I know that’s asking a lot) and help me man the stage left coach. Personally, I am counting down the hours before I can watch Joseph Arthur create an explosion of images and sounds while hardly breaking a sweat.