Last night marked a turning point in my appreciation of Joseph Arthur. I have been a huge fan of his since the release of his debut album, Big City Secrets, back in 1996. Every time I have seen him perform, it has been just Joseph with his series of pedals, samplers and his infamous painted guitar. The amazing layers of sound he was able to construct by himself totally blew my mind, which is something he was doing way before other solo musicians copied that style of solo performance. I won't name names... you know who you are.
For the first time in my ten year long infatuation with Joseph Arthur, I got to experience his music while being backed by a full band. In fact, this marked a total personality shift for Arthur. In the times when I have watched him perform in the past, or even the few opportunities I've had to chat with him, he has been a dark, quiet individual. With his new album and his own record label, Arthur seems to be in a much happier place now. Now that he has found a silver lining, the inner rock star in him has come out in full force. Joseph Arthur with Mick Jagger rock poses? Hell yes!
Arthur took the stage at approximately 10pm last night at NYC's Bowery Ballroom. If the show wasn't sold out, it had to be mighty close. He walked out wearing black pants, a red blazer and some type of t-shirt on underneath. He was backed by four band members, with each of their mic stands decorated with bright white Christmas lights. The backdrop was illuminated by a faint projection of some random images, although they were to dark to make out what they were.
The set was simple: his new album, Nuclear Daydream, from start to finish. Things kicked off with "Too Much To Hide," an upbeat rocker that instantly set the positive tone for the entire evening. His backing band provided four-part harmonies to the song, at times almost having a gospel-like feeling as they sang the repeated ending line "be here now" to close out the song. The melancholy side of Joseph Arthur still exists, such as on the downtempo "Black Lexus."
One of the set's highlights was "Slide Away," showcasing the upper range of Joseph Arthur's amazing voice. How he is able to produce such a chilling falsetto, and then follow it up with his raspy tenor on "Electrical Storm," totally boggles my mind. As for the rock gestures that I mentioned earlier, well they came out in full force during "You Are Free." While the band sang along during the line "I'm no longer who I was, no longer who I thought I was," Arthur perched himself on top of one of the monitors, slinging his microphone around by its cord.
Another fantastic moment was with "Don't Tell Your Eyes." With the song's somewhat religious content, the chorus brought on that gospel-like feeling once again. It is his ability to mix in politics, personal stories, heartfelt moments and spiritual influences into his music that makes Joseph Arthur such an intriguing artist. The set wrapped up with the title track from his album, "Nuclear Daydream," taking just a few minutes before beginning the encore.
OK, so the encore was mind blowing. Arthur came on to the stage in different clothes, now sporting a white suite with no shirt underneath. The band performed a new song of his, inspired by medication he had to take upon returning from Africa, which ended up having hallucinogenic properties. Then came the special guest. Could it be? Is that? Holy shit! Yes, that is Michael Stipe walking onto the stage! The two performed a duet of the song "In The Sun," alternating verses while Stipe allowed Arthur to take care of the chorus. While their voices together on stage sounded amazing, the most impressive part of this was watching the admiration that Stipe had for Arthur. He stood back and smiled while watching Arthur sing, even crouching down on the floor at one point to admire the beauty of the music. It was definitely one of those musical moments that I will never forget. The set then concluded with two old-school favorites, "Tattoo" and "Honey And The Moon."
Although this was not the Joseph Arthur that I was accustomed to, I really like the change. He seems to be in a much better place personally, allowing him to really open up in his music and in his live performance. Watching him beam from the stage, hugging his fellow band mates (and planting a few kisses on them as well) and chatting up the crowd showed a whole new side to Joseph Arthur. I highly suggest catching him if he happens to be rolling into a town near you. Check out the dates here. Also, make sure you check out the photo gallery below!
Photos by Erin Chandler