Live: Joan Of Arc Noodle With Aplomb At Mercury Lounge
Better Than: Cap'n Jazz, Owls, Owen, Friend/Enemy, Make Believe, Ghosts and Vodka, Tim Kinsella(s) . . . pretty much every JOA-affiliated band besides American Football.
Joan of Arc and Jean-Luc Godard have something in common (besides the recreation of scenes from Weekend in the artwork for the band's 1999 album, Live in Chicago). I've always suspected that people who maintain they like the difficult, esoteric later work of both the band and the filmmaker as much as their vibrant, pop-infused early creations are full of shit. JOA's How Memory Works and A Portable Model are Breathless, Contempt, Band of Outsiders. Everything after that is Ici et ailleurs or Notre Musique. I guess sometimes you have to see a band live to really get what they've been up to, though, because Tim Kinsella and company put on a solid, rocking performance at the Mercury Lounge on this nasty, freezing, wet night. Even the band's most annoyingly pretentious and meandering songs were rendered snappy and engaging.
Kinsella is looking quite dapper these days: thicker and older, but fetching with his dress shirt and hint of a mustache. He still sings like he did 15 years ago, though, his whiny, sometimes scratchy voice intoning arcane and smart-alecky lyrics. The band is currently touring as a quartet, picked from their ever-shifting but all-in-the-family cast of characters; their longstanding musical and personal relationships were evident onstage as they churned out raw, immediate, and frequently awesome selections, old and new. You could see the guys giving each other verbal and optical cues as they performed, lending a charming spontaneity to the jazzy blasts of math-rock mayhem and arpeggiated riffing.
Then there's the stage banter. Kinsella was not short on repartee, no doubt a skill he has honed to fill in the gaps created by the many, many guitar tunings required during a Joan of Arc set. Topics ranged from how domestic his brother (and frequent JOA drummer) Mike is these days, inside jokes about coffee, and good-natured rebuffs of the many song requests hurled at the band by the crowd. Early on, the banter turned ominous as Kinsella seemed slightly alarmed by a burning smell that I noticed too (visions of Great White flashing through my head), but a couple new songs and some old Owls tunes later, no one was thinking about the odor anymore.
The band cranked out song after song of noodling guitar lines teetering and collapsing into forceful power chords. This is their allure -- nerdy prog rock injected with just enough emo to convince the crowd they're all buddies with the band, which was apparent from many of the sometimes cringe-inducing shouts in between songs ("Come hang out in central Jersey with me!" "Boxers or briefs?" "Why aren't you touring as Make Believe?!")
Just when it seemed as if a jam was going to go on just a little too long, the band reigned it back in. Nowhere was this more evident than during their last song, a crowd-pleasing rendition of "Let's Wrestle," a precious but effective tune from the band's early years. It was given the epic treatment, full of long pauses filled with barely scratched guitar strings and brushed drum heads that exploded into major clamor. "We know that we can't quite kiss yet," wailed Kinsella, making sense of feelings that sometimes just don't. Then it was all over. "Enjoy the ice storm," he said as the lights went up. Thanks, Tim.
Critical Bias: A friend of mine speculated recently that Joan of Arc are "secret jocks," causing me to look for telltale signs the entire night. None were found.
Overheard: After Kinsella announced the song "White Out 2," someone yelled "White power too!" Uncomfortable for all.
Random Notebook Dump: Opening band Pillars and Tongues summed it up during the crickets following their awkward stage banter: "We're not orators, we're musicians."
New song (?)
White Out 2
New song (?)
Eventually, All At Once
What Horse You Rode Id On
Anyone Can Have a Good Time
Who's Afraid of Elizabeth Taylor?
Shown and Told
Everyone is my Friend