Friday, November 7, 2008

Joseph Arthur in Williamsburg

Joseph Arthur at Music Hall of Williamsburg

Last night I ventured to Williamsburg with a couple of friends to see Joseph Arthur, a guy whose music I have liked for a while, even though I have never seen him live or really crossed paths with anything to do with him anywhere. I know very little about him: he makes a ton of albums, Peter Gabriel likes his tunes, he paints. I was very impressed when I heard OUR SHADOWS WILL REMAIN, but I confess that it is the only album I know.

Joseph Arthur and the lonely astronautsWe arrived early in the set, and the band was fully into the performance. A 4-piece band backs up Arthur, allowing him to frontman more effectively. Live, his vocal range is even more impressive than on his recordings, and more raw. I was especially moved by how warm and fat the tones in the lower end of his range are. Arthur's catalog is as diverse as his vocal range, and his songwriting taps into a real reverence for recent musical history. I think for instance that the first song he performed solo during the encore was the best Neil Diamond song that Neil Diamond wishes he could have written. For those of you who are tempted to stop reading as soon as "Neil Diamond" is mentioned, let me say also that all of Arthur's songs have an authenticity to them that I think comes from Arthur allying himself to the classic, fundamental questions that a popular music genre like rock addresses best, diverting the audiences attention from the "message"/"meaning" of a particular song to the journey itself that the songwriter/performer is going through. You really get to watch him, without being confronted by opinions etc. marring the music. It makes for an endlessly entertaining evening, especially with such talented musicians in tow (Jen Turner on guitar is a show all by herself).

Joseph Arthur Paintingsimages copyright Joseph Arthur, from

Joseph's visual art , which until recently could be seen at his gallery, the Museum of Modern Arthur (MOMAR) in DUMBO and on his album covers, is an achievement of a completely different sort. Unfortunately, the gallery is closing. I saw a slew of the paintings at the gallery's closing party, and it really is a shame that they will only be exhibited online from now on. Those rabid fans of Arthur's (of which there are many) would often come and hang around the gallery, just waiting for Joseph to show up! Amazing. I ran into one such crazy fan in the bar. When I let slip that I didn't have to pay for my ticket, her eyes became sort of possessed. I assumed she thought I could help her get close to Joseph (which I couldn't), and her enthusiasm caused me to hide in the bathroom until she left. I did see her scouring the merch table, and with Arthur averaging about 50 albums a year, she should have plenty of fodder for her home shrine.

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