March 1, 2011
Bootleg Theater, Los Angeles
I wasn’t going to write about the show tonight. I wasn’t going to capture video of any portion of it. I was merely going to listen, watch, and enjoy myself.
As is always the case when I see Joseph Arthur play, I enjoy myself so much that I have to write about it. Every Joseph Arthur show is so unique and inspiring that I don’t want you to ever miss out, especially should you have the chance to see him play live (even if you’ve seen him 100 times before).
When you see Joseph Arthur play, it’s more than a “show.” He’s not just playing songs – you can feel that he’s truly sharing himself with you in that moment. It’s as if he’s saying “thank you for being here. . . step inside my mind for an hour or two” and then he really let’s you in. What that means is – Joseph Arthur is going to tell you what he’s thinking and let you hear what he hears, layer by layer, so you can really absorb it. This happens through the music, the banter between songs, a change in direction which highlights another aspect of his personality, an acknowledgment of someone specific in the audience, or what and how he paints during the set. Every show is unique, a shared creation and experience.
During last week’s exceptional show, Joseph remarked that he wanted to “lighten the mood,” that the set felt “too heavy.” This week he showed us what he meant. He frequently joked between songs, declaring that malfunctioning equipment is begging “just hit me,” making definitive sounding statements followed by a pause and then, “that can’t be true.” The mood was playful and light. In one way or another, Joe seemed to acknowledge every person in the room, all the while creating music before us, track by track.
The light mood in no way diminished the serious genius of Joseph Arthur’s songwriting. In fact, it almost highlighted it further. One moment Joseph is leading the audience in a chant of OM (yes, that happened) and the next he’s singing a song that lifts your heart up to your throat and lodges it there until he gently sets it back down. Joseph Arthur has written some of my all-time favorite lyrics and each time I see him I feel more and more blessed to be there.
At the end of the show, as his talented guest musicians started to walk off stage, Joseph turned and said, “wait – stay here.” He grabbed an acoustic guitar, decorated with his hand-painted art, and began singing “In The Sun,” unplugged. It was dark, it was intimate, the audience moved in closer and sang along. In a moment that epitomizes graciousness, connection, and openness, artist and audience became one. Joseph sat down on the steps leading from the stage to the crowd, the audience gathered around him as if at a campfire, and what happened can’t be described in words. Here’s video of that moment. The lighting was low so the video is very dark, hard to see at times. But as you watch through to the end, enough light comes into the frame throughout to illuminate what I’ve been trying to say all along: you had to be there.