Review by Ejay VandenHengel
Joan of Arc @ Garfield Artworks Aug. 31, 2013
A small caveat before I begin: you’re either a Joan of Arc fan or you’re not. Tim Kinsella is a love it or hate it kind of voice and aesthetic. I happen to subscribe to the former, and I’ve been one for many many years. From where I come from, everything Tim Kinsella touches turns to gold – whether that be Owls, Friend/Enemy, Everyoned, etc. So, as you can probably tell already, I absolutely loved this show…but, be your own judge and let my voice be simply a subjective point of view.
Every Joan of Arc show is an experience. The “Dick Cheney” album saw them assemble close to ten members for the corresponding tour shows. A few years back I saw them with Victor Villareal playing lead guitar and they played some Owls’ songs. Hell, I saw them open for themselves once as a completely different band – Make Believe and Joan of Arc. Strange ideas from a potentially strange man. And this incarnation of Joan of Arc followed suit.
Lets call this Joan of Arc reduced. A four piece, with Bobby Burg playing bass, Theo Katsaounis drumming, backing/main vocals by Melina Ausikaitis, and Tim doing his usual Tim, the reduced assemblage sounded extremely tight. Bobby was solid as always. Theo showed his chops with the difficult rhythms and sly filler work. Melina was a nice basic voice to accompany Tim’s unconventional shrill/flat meander. However, what came through the most with this particular group was how good of a guitarist Tim Kinsella actually is. With Tim’s guitar work front and center, the odd strumming/picking combination became a highlight of the sound instead of a rhythmic contribution hiding somewhere in the background.
Sprinkles of both old and new Joan of Arc records highlighted the set. Two songs from “Live in Chicago” bookended the set that included new ones from “Testimonium”, new(ish) cuts from “Joan of Arc”, old(ish) songs from “Flowers”, “Boo Human” and “Eventually All At Once” and old songs from “So Much Staying Alive…” and the aforementioned “Chicago 1999”. When a songwriter puts out two albums a year on average it is very hard to draw lines between old and new.
“It’s Easier to Drink on an Empty Stomach than Eat on a Broken Heart” eased the small crowd into the show – the sparseness of Kinsella voice and guitar fills the bare space of Garfield Artworks oddly well. False starts, awkward pauses and random a cappella interludes by Melina served as the signposts of where one song has ended and another is beginning. The heart of the set found the foursome performing lively renditions of more subtle Joan of Arc recordings. “Flowers” and “Eventually, All at Once” scrambled mathy drums with driving bass and circular guitar verses. The scene relaxed as the band stepped back while Tim and Melina sang “Staying Alive and Lovelessness”. The absolute highlight of the set was the increased tempo version of “Shown and Told”. During the song, a lighting malfunction caused the spots to go full blast, blinding the band, and leading to Tim commenting, “It’s like fucking Clockwork Orange in here”.
Which brings me to the venue. Garfield Artworks has no ventilation. It is a strange, divey kind of spot that makes you wonder what bands say about the place after they have played there. That being said, the venue has its own kind of ‘this is really weird so this is either going to be really good or really bad’ vibe to it. In actuality, every summer show is an endurance race – its uncomfortably hot. “Thanks for coming out [to the show] and sweat-lodging with us,” said Tim in the middle of the set. It was, I think everyone at the show would probably agree, very uncomfortable…but well worth it.