Joseph Arthur

“A tragedy has just occurred,” says Joseph Arthur between songs. He’s calm as he says this, knowing that there’s no use crying over spilled water on a piano. Arthur soon gets over the travesty. “You guys can get up on the tables and dance, it doesn’t have to be like this.”

What we see before us looks like a modern day Bob Dylan. Leather jacket over plaid shirt, shaggy hair in his face, and harmonica attached to his shoulders. As he reads poetry while his fellow guitarist plays, and repeats the same refrain at the end of each phrase, it’s easy to mistake him for the folk legend.

The night’s opener, Greg Laswell, is the perfect warm up for the crowd, as he is equivalent to the buzz from a good glass of wine (which most of the audience has just began to feel). He’ll make you giggle with his rambling between songs (often digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole), he’s sweet in his intentions and his lyrics, and his voice is smooth, despite a frog in his throat during his favorite song (we wouldn’t have known at all if he hadn’t said anything).

A new resident to Brooklyn, and the only one in the venue that is ready for more snow, Laswell is the sole musician on stage for his set, switching between his acoustic guitar and piano, making more sound than I ever thought one man could. He opens with “Sing, Theresa Says,” and moves into “What A Day,” a song written about when his niece was born. His voice and lyrics are the stars of the show, as he keeps his guitar and piano work simple as perfect accompaniment. The sound is pure, never straining and always hitting the perfect note.

He introduces a cover song, mentioning that it was featured on an episode of The Hills (I sadly knew exactly which one as he described the ending scene of Season Two, Episode One). Laswell gives “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” a completely different meaning as he makes it more about regret and mistakes, rather than a night on the town with Cyndi Lauper. Keeping the balance just right, and spirits up (no pun intended), Laswell ends with a “f***ing happy song” on his guitar, as requested by the audience.

During the break in sets, we notice the amount of microphones on the stage that were completely unnecessary for Laswell, imaging the same would be true for Arthur. However Arthur is much more than a musician in his live show, he’s a painter (a craft he performs while playing the harmonica at the same time), and an engineer. Rarely standing still, he moves from microphone to microphone, singing and playing little bits here and there (including percussion using just his guitar) then looping them to create this amazing crescendo. Some may find this gimmicky, or cheap, since there is only one additional band member, but everything we hear is created in that moment, and gives us insight into the actual creation of Arthur’s work.

Having started his career in 1997, Arthur has found a number of media through which to express himself. He’s an artist that doesn’t need to use many words to communicate. As you watch him sing and play, it’s clear that he wears his heart on his sleeve (and his guitar, which might as well be a canvas as it is covered in his work). Even as he and his accompanying guitar player simply look at each other, they seamlessly transition from one song to the next, having said nothing at all.

In an encore that included “Honey And The Moon,” “Your History,” “In The Sun” and “I Miss The Zoo,” Arthur makes the otherwise subdued crowd raise their voices, requesting their favorite songs, and telling him that he’s sexy despite his tangent about lice (don’t worry, he assures us he’s clean). The cheers and applause continue as he thanks the crowd more than once for coming out tonight, and even as he leaves the stage.

Greg Laswell