April 2 & April 9, 2010
The Stronghold, Venice
There’s no end to my love for The Stronghold, and there’s no end to my love for Joseph Arthur. If Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend had been around eleven years ago, you would have read a lot of Joseph Arthur reviews by now. Of all the musicians I’ve seen repeatedly throughout the years, Joseph Arthur may be the only one whose shows in Los Angeles I have not ever missed.
Among my many favorite Joseph Arthur memories are the days when he’d come to Los Angeles for a month at a time and play a residency at Largo. I’d go to every show (as previously stated) and each one was completely unique. That was nine or ten years ago, when Arthur’s catalog wasn’t nearly as extensive as it is now. Yet, he managed to make every set feel different – not just a different Joseph Arthur show, but a different experience altogether. There were times he’d talk about almost mythical, sometimes dark, dreams he’d had the night before. Other times he would show us recent drawings, or pages of lyrics written in his notebook and then sing us a newly penned song. He would recreate a song you thought you knew really well (because you had listened to it repeatedly on one of his albums) and you would hardly recognize his live rendition of it at first. Then, you’d hear the lyrics, and beneath the layers of sound Arthur built in front of you, the through-line of a familiar guitar note or beat. He’d talk about darkness and fears – sometimes completely introspective; other times, so external that the conversation seemed to take place on another plane of time and space.
A decade later, a lot has changed, but Arthur’s shows are consistent, and they have evolved. Instead of holding up a sketch book and showing us his illustrations, Arthur now throws canvases up prior to his set and paints live, while singing. His notebook of new songs has grown exponentially – it takes effort to lift and hold steady while playing and singing. He still wrestles with fear, although now it’s infused with humor. “I’m gonna put these on now. . . because I’m scared, ” Arthur said with a smile as he put his sunglasses on Friday night. He still manages to play his songs different every time. There may be subtle differences in meter or drastic differences in the melody.
Arthur not only plays songs for you, he creates them for you, before you. He begins with a sound, or a beat, or a chord, then he samples it and loops it. Then, he adds another sound, beat or chord, and samples and loops that. Then he’ll layer on vocals and more sounds. The band joins in and Arthur begins to sing, stepping on and off pedals to bring various sounds in and out throughout the song. You may have seen other musicians do this before, but never like this. Often, when a musician does this, they recreate the song and all the sounds the same way every time, so that you get a song that sounds like the recoded version, without a big band. What makes Arthur different is – well, he does it different every time. I’ve been watching Joseph Arthur create music for eleven years and I have yet to see him play a song the same way twice. And this is how, and why, I go to every single Joseph Arthur show in the area.
Joseph Arthur is playing Fridays in April, at The Stronghold in Venice. They’re closed this week, but try and hit the last Fridays of the month. Go more than once, you never know what’s going to happen. . .
Here are some videos from the past two Fridays of Joseph Arthur’s residency. One thing about The Stronghold is that it feels like a private loft party, where you’re surrounded by a large group of friends, which is really cool. That said, when you get a large group of friends together at a house party, they talk. Ordinarily, at a typical music venue, this would annoy me. But at The Stronghold, you realize it’s just a solid community of great people who enjoy each other and gather around music. The conversation, laughter, and fact that nobody’s “too cool” to talk to anybody else is one of the best things about The Stronghold. So the chatter is forgiven in the room, but apologies for some of the background noise in the videos (it tends to die down a minute into each song):