Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bottle of You- Joseph Arthur, Guitar Angel

I'm gonna go ahead and start with a post about my favorite music-maker because, let's face it, it's a very good place to start. I can't remember where I was the first time I heard him play, but my oh my, he's seen me through some times. Times of all sorts.

Joseph Arthur is a Peter Gabriel protégé "discovered" by the Brit in the early 90s. He doesn't really sound like anybody else to me- the best I can say is that he has a melancholy that's similar to Elliott Smith, but the mood I'm in that makes me want to listen to Arthur is completely different from the one that makes me reach for Smith.
Arthur is this quiet, wonderful, lanky, ageless guy that hardly anybody knows about. Which blows my mind while making me very, very happy, because when I play him for people, I basically preface the music with "This is Joseph Arthur, he's mine." Mildly creepy? Probably. But also I just really really adore his music, and hope he never stops playing the way he does right now-- like the audience (if there is one) is incidental. I think I'd probably like to smoke a hookah with him.

Having a "favorite" band or a "favorite" song or a "favorite" singer is weird. It's like having a "best" friend, which is very nice in theory because people love to ask you what your "favorite" or "best" is, and having an easy answer is, well, easy. But one person or one song or one artist can't give you everything you need one hundred percent of the time. I diagnose people with music, probably more often than is polite. Have you ever just looked at a person and known that they need The Shins in their life? If you asked me right now who my favorite singer is, I'd say Joseph Arthur (and that usually holds). Band? Bon Iver. Song? Between the Bars (Elliott Smith). It might change in a few minutes though. I never give people a straight answer when they ask my favorite color either. What a strange question. "What's your favorite color?" You have to answer it with a question. "Right now?" Right now my feet are cold and I'm listening to Peter Bradley Adams and my favorite color is brown. In ten minutes, maybe my feet will be warmer and my favorite color will be green.

Woooo, tangent. So I saw Joseph Arthur live for the first time this past summer in New York City. The performance space was this little theater in the Rubin Museum, which houses, randomly, Himalayan art. They were doing this completely unplugged concert series. There was a theme, something to do with death, which basically meant that they projected slides of Himalayan funerary sculpture up on the wall behind good old Joe while he did his thing, looking over his shoulder periodically to laugh at a toothy wooden mask, blown up to 20 times its normal size and staring at him. There were maybe 70 people in the audience, including his sister and two young nephews, the latter of whom joined him on stage at one point before a fit of shyness sent them scooting off back to their mum.

The concert tickets were a 21st birthday present from a friend who wins the best-gift-ever award. After the show, Arthur hung around the lobby for a while talking to audience members, and I admit it, I totally bolted. Hey, seeing a "favorite" in the flesh will do that to a girl. In retrospect, I wish I'd sucked it up, but hopefully that won't be the last time I see him live, so on we go. During the twenty-block walk home, it started to POUR, breaking a six-week-long drought and completing my magical night. Best concert of my life, and I promise, that's not going to change.

I read somewhere that Joseph Arthur is "the Robert Downey Jr. of music" because he used to do a lot of drugs and is insanely talented. I don't really know what to do with that comparison. Robert Downey Jr. is a very good actor who makes very good movies. Arthur is singing to ghosts.

During the course of writing this post, my favorite song changed. It's now Billy Joel's Vienna. Told you, didn't I?

And for the record, this will not be a music blog. Music is just my favorite at the moment.

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