It's no secret that it can get rather chilly in Akron, Ohio. It is known. Given this, it should be no surprise that Akron's Joseph Arthur, who lived for a while here in Atlanta, was able to warm up a cold December evening at Eddie's Attic.
Shreveport's Dylan LeBlanc opened. A singer-songwriter accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, LeBlanc has an impressively strong voice to carry him through his material. At times, his voice reminded me a little of Chris Issak (without the yodeling). He came across as endearingly sincere, fitting for a singer-songwriter on the acoustic circuit, and played a half-hour or so set without wearing out his welcome.
We saw Joseph Arthur at last September's L5Fest, and were quite impressed with his songs, his guitar playing, and the emotional impact of the set. There, he was backed only by a very intuitive drummer, Bill Dobrow, who joined him again last night, but this time he added an additional musician on bass - Mike Mills, formerly of REM.
Arthur gave the audience a splendid, nearly two-hour, tour-de-force performance, consisting mostly of songs from his fine new record, The Ballad of Boogie Christ. About half-way through, he used a pedal to loop his guitar part, freeing his hands to paint a spontaneous picture on stage while still singing. It sounds pretentious, but it didn't come off that way - Arthur apparently is something of a noted artist, creating the cover art for most of his entire discography, including 10 LPs.
There were so many highlights it's difficult to list them all, but just off the top of my head, there was his epic extended guitar solo during Boogie Christ, a cover of ELO's Showdown, and Dobrow's playing on a Brazilian drum for the last several songs of the set. As per his custom, Arthur had CDs of the evening's performance recorded right off the soundboard available for sale immediately after the show. My only regret of the evening is that I failed to buy the CD, but I see that most of his shows are available for download at his website, including a two-night stand on February 10 and 11 of 2010 at Eddie's Attic, so I assume this show should be available some time soon.
A number of people were in the audience primarily to see bassist Mike Mills, a sideman who outshines the frontman in terms of name recognition, but played his sideman role well, providing backing vocals in addition to his bass playing. Apparently, this wasn't just a one-off, as-long-as-I'm-in-town performance - Mills has apparently committed to playing with Arthur for some time, and mentioned during the show that he was now "in the band."
For the encore, Arthur kicked the lead vocals over to Mills for a cover of REM's Don't Go Down To Rockville, before performing several more of his own songs.
It's beyond me how Joseph Arthur has managed to avoid becoming a bigger star for all these years - he seems like an affable-enough guy, he writes terrific songs, sings well, and is a most impressive guitarist. Peter Gabriel thought enough of him to sign him after hearing a demo tape, he was a member of Fistful of Mercy with Ben Harper and Dhanni Harrison (George's son), and as alluded to before, has released 10 albums of his own. I've been listening to Boogie Christ today, and it's a great record. I'm a fan.
Perhaps with the drawing power of Mike Mills in the band, Joseph Arthur will now get some of the recognition he deserves.