January 23, 2010
The Troubadour, LA
“I’m no longer who I was, no longer who I thought I was. . . ” Joseph Arthur sang during a stellar performance of his song, “You Are Free” at The Troubadour. Well, I’ve been seeing Arthur perform live for the past 11 years and I don’t know who he thinks he is, but I think he is still one of the best songwriters around.
The first time I saw Joseph Arthur play he was opening for David Gray at The Palace (now The Avalon) in Hollywood. He performed solo and I watched in amazement as Arthur used numerous pedals to create and loop sounds, building momentum and evolving into extraordinary songs.
It was the first time I had experienced an audience uproar for an opening act to do an encore performance (this was before Queens of The Stone Age opened for Nine Inch Nails). The crowd went insane when Arthur finished his short 30-minute set and were absolutely devastated when he didn’t return for an encore. After David Gray’s set, people were still talking about Joseph Arthur.
Flash forward to January 23, 2010: At this point Arthur can build a song by looping various beats and sounds, as he creates them, effortlessly. Once he lays down the tracks, he can paint while singing.
I’ve seen some live painting during concerts in my time, but usually the painter is another artist, not the performing musician. In Joseph Arthur’s case, he performs while simultaneously painting on several massive canvases. Arthur wasn’t just painting on stage because he could. After the show, Arthur sold his paintings, with 100% of the proceeds donated directly to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.
It wasn’t just Arthur, a bunch of pedals, and a paintbrush on stage. Ben Harper sat among Arthur’s very talented band, playing lap steel guitar. Harper accompanied Arthur on vocals during one of his more recognized songs, “In The Sun.” Harper also lent vocals to one of my favorite Joseph Arthur songs, “Ashes Everywhere.” In addition to Ben
Harper, Arthur was joined by band mates Jessy Green, Sibyl Buck, and Kraig Jarret.
As Arthur played, he’d often look back at the paintings as if he was singing a line specifically to them. “Your holiness is gone. . .” he sang back to a painting, possibly a self-portrait, during “September Baby.” Then Arthur would turn to the audience and sing, “Sometimes love will make you sad until you know where you belong.” And then back to the painting, “You’ll dream of what you never had. . . ”
Arthur played for nearly 3 hours, performing songs including “Honey and The Moon,” “Crying Like A Man,” “Slide Away,” and “Birthday Card.” Several years ago Arthur would play these similarly long sets at Largo, as if he wanted to make up for the lack of an encore during the David Gray show, or just wanted to ensure the audience was satiated. Nobody left early during those intimate shows and such was the case during Arthur’s set at The Troubadour. Although in this case, prior to his second encore, Arthur remarked, “That would be it (the end of the show), but I’ve got to finish these paintings.”
After the show, Arthur made his way to the front room where he signed autographs and took photos with every fan. He continued painting between photos and autographs, sometimes with frustration, other times with ease. Arthur also sold live bootlegs of that night’s show immediately following the set – something he began doing several years ago and that I was pleased to see him continuing to do.
After all these years, thankfully, Joseph Arthur is still who I thought he was.