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.
“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.
Joe and his pedals
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.
Joseph Arthur live painting
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.
Joe sings to the painting
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.