Earlier today, a publicist friend of mine suggested I request press credentials for a forthcoming, new, music festival. “They’ll look at my site and see that I haven’t updated it in months,” I replied. It’s what I said at the outset: I’m not going to write about every show I see, but I will write about the shows I think everyone should experience.
One of the benefits of seeing Joseph Arthur play multiple times is that you simultaneously experience and witness continuous transformation. Listening to Joe play songs from his latest album, The Ballad of Boogie Christ, takes you further along the journey, while maintaining a connection to his beginnings. There’s a through-line that creates the foundation for the audience to step into the next adventure.
Walking onto the stage, in a white suit that appears to have remnants of a painting which extended beyond its original canvas, Joseph Arthur epitomizes “artist.” Appearing as though he sought out the shortest route from the art studio to the stage, he is perpetually creating. The stage becomes his art studio, whether he’s literally painting while singing (as he’s done previously), or playing a new arrangement of an older song (as he did several times tonight).
This show feels and sounds vastly different from other Joseph Arthur shows. It’s clear that this is a new chapter. There are far fewer pedals and more musicians on stage. The show is upbeat, soulful, and rooted in rock. The songs build to a crescendo and you’re enveloped in sound.
When Joseph Arthur plays, it’s more than a concert – he begins with a blank canvas and takes you on a journey. There are nods to the past, the future is optimistic, and you’re grounded – with him – in the present. As with life and relationships, every show is unique. You are part of the experience.
The venue is intimate, but the sound is big. At times it felt as though we were in a stadium, witnessing an immense rock show. “I intentionally didn’t bring a harmonica or acoustic guitar this time,” Joe told me. The instruments have changed; the sound accompanies and embraces the change. The show is infused with passion, love, dedication, and a reminder of what it means to truly be alive.
Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, we are constantly changing. The ideas, beliefs, and ways of life that keep us happy, healthy, and fulfilled, follow suit. When we’re aware of and welcome the changes, we liberate ourselves – we allow ourselves to be the dynamic individuals that we are. We’re present in every moment, constantly creating, being as we are, without attachment.
Walking away from a show, reminded of some of life’s greatest gifts – the ability to create, continuously evolve, and express different incarnations of ourselves during the same lifetime – is definitely worth the price of admission. Not to mention, the music and experience itself is incomparable.
Keep an eye on his tour page and see Joseph Arthur live when the opportunity arises.
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.
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
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.
Joseph Arthur Live Painting
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.
Joseph Arthur at The Stronghold
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):
Ordinarily I’d be inclined to hate a venue like Largo – it’s full of rules and “no”s. But Largo has been good to me for the past 13 years. I’ve experienced some amazing shows at Largo including: Elliott Smith, Neil Finn, Fiona Apple, Ben Folds, Glen Phillips (Toad The Wet Sprocket), Aimee Mann, E (The Eels), Robyn Hitchcock, Joseph Arthur, John Doe, Jon Brion, Grant Lee Phillips, Rufus Wainwright, Jack Black, and Tenacious D. I’ve laughed my ass off at comedy shows featuring Greg Behrendt, Sarah Silverman, Doug Benson, The Naked Trucker, Jack Black, and Tenacious D.
As I sat in the audience having a thoroughly enjoyable night of music, I realized this was made possible precisely because of those fucking rules. Largo puts music first. It’s one of the few places where you can completely escape – even planes have WiFi now. You have no choice but to become entirely immersed in music at Largo. Well, your other choice would be to leave. Largo puts the music before the customer. It’s great for the Artists too because they get to focus on playing their shows. The musicians aren’t stuck being “the assholes,” asking people to be quiet from stage, enduring the annoying ringing or feedback from cell phones in the monitors, nor averting their eyes from flashing bulbs. The musicians play. The audience listens. Largo takes care of the rest. When it comes down to it, Largo is doing everybody a favor. So if you think Flannagan’s an asshole, he’s not – he just likes music more than he likes you.
Fact: I’ve only received two criticisms since I started Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend. The first was for not writing enough about M. Ward in my Monsters of Folk review. The second was for not mentioning The Chapin Sisters in my review of Butch Walker’s most recent show in LA (the comment was posted on Facebook). Well, guess what “MB” and Jeff – I wanted to give The Chapin Sisters and M. Ward their own review all along, and here it is:
First off, Largo is the perfect venue for a show like this. The room invokes a classy, theatrical vibe. The sound is great, nobody is talking or clicking away on their cell phones, you don’t hear the noise of the bar or the spilling of drinks. You can close your eyes and get lost in sound for a couple hours. That said, you won’t find yourself closing your eyes at this show because there’s an element of artistry and performance conveyed visually, that you don’t want to miss.
The Chapin Sisters, accompanied at times by the Brothers Brothers, were great. I actually felt like an adult at this show, like I was doing something civilized and sophisticated. I don’t often like that feeling, but tonight it worked. However, because The Chapin Sisters made me feel something I’m not used to feeling, I’m finding it difficult to articulate. Go see them for yourself. Close your eyes and let the harmonies drown out the voices in your head. The Chapin Sisters are a perfect complement to She & Him. Their music and performance evoke a different time and a foreign land. Vinyl seems the appropriate format for listening to this music.
She & Him, headed up by Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, blew me away. At times, I was listening to a seemingly even-paced, “mellow” song, and then M. Ward kicked in with some absolutely insane guitar parts that bordered on psychedelic. And who wears a fluffy, fuchsia dress on stage?! Zooey Deschanel does. That, marks my first-ever remark about what an Artist wears on stage. I despise those portions of reviews that talk about what the singer is wearing or the drummer’s new haircut. Typically, that has nothing to do with the music! Yet, in the case of She & Him, Deschanel’s dress, and certainly her high heels, were important to the show. The tone of the show was reinforced by the dress and the heels that, at times, were too high for Deschanel to effectively play the Wurlitzer.
Speaking of the Wurlitzer – She & Him, well actually, “She,” knew exactly how and when to insert humor into the set. It’s a good thing Deschanel broke things up with light-hearted and quirky banter. Otherwise, we may all still be sitting there in a hypnotic state. To pass the time while the band tuned their instruments, Deschanel remarked, “The Wurlitzer is smooth. Some say it’s smoother than a piano. . . It’s like a piano, but with fewer options. . . Less lows. . . and highs.” The description felt a bit like an analogy for life. You can live a “piano life,” with all its highs and lows. Or, you can live a “Wurlitzer life” which may be smoother, but has less options.
Among many highlights of the show was She & Him’s unplugged performance of “You Really Got A Hold On Me.” You could forget to breathe during moments like those. “Change Is Hard,” “Sentimental Heart,” and “Take It Back,” were also favorites. The Chapin Sisters lent their vocals, shakers, and sleigh bells to the music as well. At one point Deschanel asked The Chapins what they were discussing. The Chapins then asked Deschanel her opinion about including sleigh bells in the next song. “You can play whatever you want. Cuz that’s the kind of friend I am!” Deschanel said, exuding confidence and sarcasm. After pausing for a moment, she added, “I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore!” That statement scored her hundreds of points in my book.
Approximately two-thirds of the way through the show, Deschenal informed the audience she was done singing new material. “No more new songs,” Deschenal said, probably expecting a sigh of relief. Instead, the audience booed. Deschenal responded, infusing her response with humor, “BUT. . . old songs!!” she said with a smile. “Yay!” the crowd responded in unison.
“You’re all so quiet,” M. Ward acknowledged between songs. “Are you OK?” Yes, everyone was OK – they were just afraid to make a sound. Tonight marked the 1st show of She & Him’s 2010 world tour. “It’s the first show of our world tour and we wanted to have it at Largo since it’s one of the best venues in the world!” Deschanel explained. Even though it was too dark for the band to see the set list, and that as a fan, you’ll not find any of this on YouTube, it seemed both the Artist and Audience wouldn’t have done it any other way. Largo wins again.
Abiding by the rules, these are the only photos I took:
The irony of the “Totally Nude Strippers” sign reflected in Largo’s mirrored sign. There’s a lot that can be inferred…
The mirror of Largo
The rabbit hole is accessible via the woman’s bathroom: