Joseph Arthur at Oslo Hackney
There’s one thing that can be said with absolute certainty about Joseph Arthur: when it comes to performing, he doesn’t know how to phone it in. Plucked from obscurity by Peter Gabriel in the 90s and well known for recording each of his live performances and selling them as unique albums at the end of his shows, Arthur has a mastery of his craft. He constructs each song on stage, beginning with a rhythm, often played on his guitar but run through a drum or piano programme, and adding melody, vocals and backing as he builds each one to a climax.
He comes on stage wearing dark sunglasses and a white military jacket with blue lapels and red sleeves – in another setting, he might look like a glam rock tribute, or a hazy wannabe mimicking bygone idols. But this is all part of the experience. Arthur is clearly a fan of classic rock’s bombastic, good-time heritage, not to mention its respect for musical panache. All of this he channels excellently and does with aplomb.
He is touring his latest album The Family and begins with one of its singles, You Keep Hanging On. He moves from his new releases to his extensive catalogue and back, with the imperative inclusion of Honey and the Moon, which found further fame through its exposure on noughties teen drama The OC. Arthur also plays his anti-Trump song, The Campaign Song, and on such a historic night goes on to decry the presidential nominee (now president) with a chant of “what the f**k, America?” which the crowd happily return.
Arthur is also a an artist and painter, and the latter part of his show sees him fill a large canvas on stage with an abstract drawing whilst continuing to sing, as his deck of loops and sound effects generates his song in his absence.
In the currently bland music scene, Joseph Arthur is what is desperately needed: an innovator with an old-school soul. Though he is now a seasoned expert, he continues to command a loyal fanbase not only due to his technical wizardry, but because of his affability and showmanship. More like him would be a great thing, but surely none would be able to match the original’s flare on stage, where he is clearly in his element and works something akin to magic.
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
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