Monday, April 11, 2005

Concert Review: Joseph Arthur

Artist: Joseph Arthur

Date: Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Venue: Ascot Room at the Quest

Location: Minneapolis, MN USA

Review: First of all, a few caveats related to this review:

  1. I was 8 months pregnant when we went to this show.

  2. We made the rookie mistake (not enough concerts lately for the Ramsay-Sherwin household?) of arriving way too early for the show and therefore sat through two opening acts, one of which had some of the worst singing (and lyrics) I have ever experienced. So bad, in fact, that Craig wanted to yell “You suck!” from the crowd. He restrained himself, though, mostly because we left the Ascot Room to hang out in the seating area on the balcony overlooking the main floor of the Quest (which was closed during the show). I’ve blocked the name of the act from my mind (if I ever knew it), but it wasn’t Polly Paulusma. She was pretty good, although I have to admit I wasn’t paying that much attention.

  3. Due mostly to the aforementioned two factors, we left the show early.

So what you’re getting in this review is an impatient (some might say cranky) pregnant woman’s perspective of part of a show. Hey, no one’s paying me for this gig.

Joseph Arthur is a one-man band, appearing on stage alone with his guitar. While this might lead you to think that his sound would be spare and acoustic, you would be dead wrong. Described by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as “the moody singer-guitarist who loves electronics and loops,” JA uses technology to augment his onstage vocal and electric guitar work with pre-recorded/looped backing vocals and harmonies, drums, more guitars, bass lines, etc. Someone with a lot more technical know-how than I have could explain how that all works, but the end result is a very full sound that seems like it should have been produced by having about 4 more people on stage.

The other effect of JA’s use of technology is that the live show is, how shall I put this, very faithful to the album. In fact, I found myself thinking, “I could be listening to this at home on our stereo without the smoke, crowd, or inconvenience of wearing shoes.” For me, the appeal of going to a live show is that you see a different side of the artist, flaws and all. I want to hear something that sets the experience apart from listening to the CD at home.

I think of seeing Ben Harper at First Avenue years ago in college and how he held a packed house enthralled and silent (no mean feat at crowded club) just by the power of his voice and stage presence. More recently (also while pregnant) I saw the Pixies in St. Paul and at least once during the show they aborted a song a few bars in and restarted it sheepishly. Wilco's extended drum and bass break (another show our boy experienced in utereo) wasn't caused by a desire to jam for the audience, but rather by Jeff Tweedy's problems with his guitar pick-up. These moments are what bring a live show to, well, life for me. While some might consider them flaws, I relish these unrehearsed, spontaneous phenomena.

If you want your live shows to be faithful reproductions of the album versions of the artist's work, this Joseph Arthur show would have satisfied you. If you, like me, want spontaneity and personality in a live show, this concert might have left you like it left me; lukewarm and glad I didn’t pay too much for the tickets.


  • Opening act lyrics: I do recall that at one point he started singing "Here in Minnesota, they don't drink soda..." This was repeated several times, and then he kicked in full tilt with the chorus ".... they drink POP".

    It was truly truly horrible.

    By Blogger Craig, at 4:58 PM  

  • There was one superfan girl up front who was super excited at that particular lyrical styling. Sad.

    By Blogger Alecia, at 5:32 PM  

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