Joseph Arthur 01/23/10
The Troubadour – West Hollywood, CA
Words/Photos/Videos by Reverend Justito/concertconfessions.com
As I shared here recently as a FROM THE VAULT post, the last time I saw Joseph Arthur, we didn’t really connect. In the weeks and months that passed after that warm summer night, I actually began to get angry. What was wrong with me? I have listened to this man and his music time and time again and I allowed weird vibes and distractions ruin our brief time together. Not permitting my anger to get the best be, I told myself there is always next time. Thankfully, next time came in the form of concertconfessions user HJUnderpants birthday celebration. After a tasty meal at Barney’s Beanery up the road, we entered The Troubadour on a cold winter night to once again experience the music of singer/songwriter Mr. Joseph Arthur.
Right off the bat, things were better than last time. Despite what the venue had informed me of via Twitter, this would not be a seated show. Excited by this discovery we hit the front bar and enjoyed a celebratory birthday drink or four before finding our spot on the open floor. With two blank canvases against the back wall, Arthur hit the stage minutes before 9:30 pm. The multi-talented performer began to paint upon both canvases before strapping on an acoustic guitar and kicking off the music with a soft new song (title unknown, but assumed to be from a rumored 2010 release). What followed was a rocking one man version of “Devil’s Broom” which allowed the musician to throw down a nasty electric guitar solo over percussive and rhythm loops all made by acoustic guitar. By the time Arthur was into his third song “Echo Park”, my wife had whispered into my ear that this time was already 1,000,000 times better than last time and I happened to agree.
Yes indeed with guitar loops bordering on insanity and two paintings being created right before our eyes, the journey was off to an amazing start. Hell, the lanky hipster softly singing fan favorites “Birthday Card” and “Honey and the Moon” into my right ear didn’t bother me as Arthur commanded my focus. Using both looped guitar and vocals as a backdrop, Arthur stopped strumming and returned to his paintings, rapidly adding lines and angles over what appeared to be faces of a man and a woman (I can hardly draw a stick figure, who am I to try to talk brush strokes and angles). Once satisfied with his progress on the paintings, Arthur brought the loops to a screeching crashing yet never missing a beat by diving head first into “All The Old Heroes”. Armed with only a Telecaster and a microphone, the pride of Akron, Ohio stood onstage alone for the final time during this short west coast tour.
Arthur welcomed four guests to the stage. In addition to Jessy Greene on Violin (who had been off and on the stage all night by this point) two members of his Lonely Astronauts backing band (Sibyl Buck on vocals and Kraig Jarret Johnson on Guitar/Vocals) joined in on the fun. Honestly, I don’t think anyone noticed, as roots/jam/soul/reggae/metal/blues/pop/funk/acoustic/indie/rebel/surf/rocker Ben Harper came out along with them. I know my jaw dropped to the clubs cement floor at the chance to see Harper (someone I have seen many times over the years) in such a small venue. The now five piece band launched into “Black Lexus” from Arthur’s 2006 record Nuclear Daydream. Most stunning about this version was Harper’s slide Weissenborn and Green’s violin coming together to create a melodic sound-scape that helped carries Arthur’s intense vocals.
While most musicians soon left the stage (they would come and go as the night carried on) Harper remained on stage to add backing vocals to Arthur’s best known song – “In The Sun”. I didn’t even make it to the chorus before my arms were covered in goosebumps. The vocals of the two blended nicely, and by the time they were done, I saw not one but two separate audience members with tears running down their cheeks. Over the next 45 minutes, the explosion of art continued to engulf senses. Arthur noted on multiple occasions how blessed he was to be playing with his old friend Ben. Harper can shred with the best of them, but on this night he played with great restraint. He found holes and filled them with rich melodies, allowing the focus to stay on the songs, and not the star. I really didn’t think the night could get better but it proved me wrong yet again as the duo performed my favorite song “Ashes Everywhere”.
I lost track of how many encore breaks the night had, but I know the show ended with Arthur completing his paintings during the song “Invisible Hands”. Big blue brush stroked smacked up against the canvas as Arthur sang for Jesus to come back and die again. As the song slowly stretched out at the end, musicians slowly began to leave the stage leaving Harper to finish the song alone.
Moments after his exit, the stage lights came up and we went to the merch table. As we waited in line to purchase the evenings show, the night once again got a little bit better. Arthur performed two more songs to the packed merch area/bar before he spoke with fans, took photos and signed autographs. I tried to keep my moment brief. He helped me with an art project of my own I am working on this year, signed a copy of the show. As we exited out the door and hit chilly Santa Monica Blvd, I couldn’t help but smile knowing that for Joseph Arthur and I the second time was the charm.