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).
Joseph Arthur art show in the venue
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.
February 22, 2011
Bootleg Theater, Los Angeles
Joseph Arthur at Bootleg Theater
When I say I want to be inspired by live music – THIS is what I’m talking about. I want to stay up all night and scream (or write) about how exceptional the show was even though I have a full day of work and meetings, beginning very early in the morning. I want to leave the venue without saying “goodbye” to friends I haven’t seen in a long time, to rush home and write about the experience. I want to buy tickets to the next show before I publish this review because once people read this, if they live anywhere near L.A., they’ll buy tickets to see Joseph Arthur‘s final show of his 4-week residency at Bootleg Theater next week. It will sell out.
Paint on Joseph's Left Hand: Music is Art
If you’ve been reading Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend for a little while, then you know about my history with Joseph Arthur, which spans more than a decade. One of my favorite Joseph Arthur memories was several years ago when my friends and I learned Joe was playing a last-minute show, in the small room, at The Knitting Factory. It was about 4:30 pm and we were sitting at work, looking at each other, until we devised a plan (which didn’t take long). My friend, Jen, called The Knitting Factory. “Yeah. . . so we heard Joseph Arthur is playing there tonight. . . in the small room. . . Yeah. . . This may be a dumb question, but are there any tickets left. . . ? And. . .what do we have to do to get them?”
Jen slammed down the phone, “Grab your coats ladies! We need to go to The Knitting Factory right now! They only have 3 tickets left for the show tonight and we need to go get them!” First of all, imagine getting anywhere – quickly – at 5pm, in LA. We looked at each other, without hesitation, vowed to come back to work after the show, and sprinted to the car.
We somehow got to the venue while the remaining 3 tickets were available and Joseph Arthur treated us to a brilliant show. It was special because the venue was exceptionally small and the sound (at that time) was really good. It was special because there were some technical difficulties. . . which allowed time for Joe to get out his notebook and show us some recent artwork he’d created. It was special because Joseph Arthur was playing.
Twelve years later, and I still feel that privileged to see Joseph Arthur play.
Building The Song Piece By Piece
What was special about tonight’s show? The paint on Joe’s hands, reminding you that music isn’t just “music” – it’s art. The way Joseph re-creates songs in front of you, piece by piece, looping percussion, vocals, and guitar, with relaxed precision. “Relaxed precision” may seem like a contradiction but that’s how he pulls it off. Watching Joseph paint, not just a picture, but what is to become a central character in the show, while singing. The look on Joe’s face as he
Painting A Character Into The Show
contemplates and serenades the painting he created while singing the early verses of the same song. Watching and listening, awestruck, as Joseph reads several pages of spoken word, the words flowing so fluidly, you can’t imagine he’s actually had the time to read them off the page. The apparent set list written on the back of the poetry – the songs are familiar, but the set is different. . . it always is. Joe’s sense of humor as he introduces a song, “This song is new. . . except for countless clips on YouTube. Oh, the mystique of the music industry.”
The fact that every person who has spoken to me about Bootleg Theater has said what a terrible venue it is; and that it actually turned out to be quite wonderful. The way I was greeted at the door by security, with open arms and a smile, and treated with genuine kindness while getting my ticket. The feeling of gratitude upon remembering that, after a lifetime of seeing shows in LA, some venues truly are home and treat me like family. And, the realization that after all that time, I can walk into a venue for the first time, and that it too can feel like home. Walls upon walls of Joseph Arthur’s paintings in the gallery, leading to the music room. The fact that there is still a music venue that only charges $2 for a bottle of water.
This acoustic rendition of “In The Sun,” featuring C.c. White and audience sing-a-long. No microphones. Vocal mastery from C.c. White (be sure to watch through the end). A chorus of audience back-up singers – the experience of community and collective passion they contributed is another thing that made the night special:
Not just playing songs; re-creating songs:
“Crying Like A Man”
If you missed that show, you missed that show. It’ll never be the same. That’s Joseph Arthur.
The final show of Joseph’s residency at Bootleg Theater is next Tuesday, March 1. Tickets