Saturday, September 20, 2014

Afghan Whigs and Joseph Arthur - The Beacham, Orlando 2014

Dulli on the keys.
While everyone complains about "music nowadays" and the death of the music industry as we know it and all that whinny nostalgic bullshit, I hold that it's actually the best time in history to be a fan of music. Thanks to Spotify, YouTube and other streaming services, it's possible to listen to just about anything you can imagine or not imagine. You can discover and explore all kinds of music from any era, from all over the world, without having to go find it in a record store and spending a ton of cash to try it out. And on top of that, with new bands putting out vinyl again, you can still do that too. So, when my buddy, Carlos, asked me if I wanted to go see Afghan Whigs with him, which for some reason I was never into, I started listening to their entire catalog on Spotify. Interestingly enough, while I liked a few songs, I wasn't sure I loved any, but decided to go anyway because live music.  And by the way, the concert was in Orlando, a four hour drive. That's commitment. Meanwhile, my other buddy Raf, was planning his pilgrimage as well.

Joseph Arthur just getting started.
Live music discovery is not a new thing for me. Once in a while, an opening act can blow you away. Strand of Oaks opened for Tallest Man on Earth last year and were amazing. But for an opening act to go down as doing the coolest thing you've ever seen at a show, is a pretty big fucking deal. So the title goes to Joseph Arthur, who I had never heard of before but will never forget. He started off unassuming enough, just a guy and his guitar, singing a folksy ballad. I liked what I was hearing, a lot. He was using a sampler to create loops on the fly with his guitar and stomping his feet and it was very cool. It's not the first time I've seen someone do that, but I'm a big fan of that sort of thing and I'm always intrigued by the ability to be able to do it on the spot with minimal editing, without losing the flow of the song. This was all great. At one point he ended a song with a hip hop type loop and foot stomping rap/chant that was really surprising. This is when I decided this guy was awesome and I would likely venture out to buy something from him between sets. But this wasn't the moment he became my new man crush. That happened next.

Masterpiece complete.
He started working on a loop that was pretty traditional and reminiscent of Dylan or Lou Reed (his latest album is all Reed covers). When the loop was ready, he put the guitar down and grabbed the mic, and went to a canvas that had been on stage the whole time, but I hadn't thought about. As he sang the extensive sounding lyrics (it was hard to make out the lyrics so it may well have been a Reed cover), he started painting and didn't stop until the song was done. And on top of that, the painting was great. That's some old school multimedia shit, right there. Fuck your light shows. Fuck your videos and holograms and pyrotechnics and all that bullshit. This guy, by himself, gave the audience a full on artistic experience involving music, poetry and visual arts all at the same time. Hell yes he made a fan that night. That guy's a poet, bro!

Spot Art Garfunkel in the crowd.
Then came the Afghan Whigs. The crowd was so hyped it was like being in a waiting room to see a doctor that cures everything and makes you immortal. I could definitely feel the aura of dream anticipation just radiating off of Raf. This was his favorite band for the last 15 years and he'd never seen them live until tonight. He might piss his pants. When they finally hit the stage, it was with a loudness I've never heard before. Maybe too loud, but what was just right and blew me away, was the energy, the ferocity, the passion with which they were playing. Greg Dulli was on fucking fire. This guy is a god damned supernova of charisma. I'm not a big fan of Mick Jagger, because I always feel like he's "on" and over the top. I get it, but I don't like it. It's not authentic to me. Dulli was doing a version of what Jagger is supposedly great at, except he was doing it in a way that was all his own, came off as very authentic and was not over the top. Throughout the night, I kept wondering how I never got into this band back in the 90s. And the fact that he kept throwing in bits of Bobby Womack, Fleetwood Mac and who knows what else I might have missed, made it clear to me these guys know their music history. So, yeah, I'll be relistening to their entire catalog with a whole new appreciation. These guys also made a fan that night.

Hey, Joe.
One thing that stood out with the Whigs performance (as well as Joseph Arthur's) is a feeling that I'm not sure I can put my finger on but I'll try. In the 90s I was in my 20s. The grunge and alternative music "scene(s)" were blowing up and it was a good time for music in general. It was the last time "mainstream" and "alternative" meant anything, even as both concepts were merging and dying. Although I loved music then as much as I always have, I only experienced the live scene vicariously through TV. It was a weird time for me, as an awkward, sensitive, directionless, lonely and, frankly, depressed guy in his 20s. A lot of sleeping, listening to music and writing shitty poetry that nobody did or will read. Whenever I saw bands on TV or movies, I longed for something I saw in them that felt akin to how I felt, but I was paralyzed to going out and getting it. The first scene that comes to mind is in the movie Singles that takes place at an Alice in Chains show. It's a small club in Seattle and the band is playing, while the main characters are just entering the club. There's no anticipatory, empty club or build up to the arrival of the band. They just happen to be playing this small place to a crowd of grunge people. And on stage, the band is moving and performing as if this was a large arena, yet somehow, it's also as if this was just a living room somewhere. It's big and intimate at the same time. It can't be contained, but somehow it is, at least momentarily. Like I said, I can't put my finger on it, but it's something I somehow find connection and meaning in. The point is, I got that feeling from the Whigs and the way Dulli moved. It was like this larger than life person, filled with the passion of a raging sun, was sharing their innermost feelings, directly with me. I think the thing I'm getting at here is about a human connection in the midst of chaos. I think. I don't know. I almost don't want to explore it further and just leave it as a mystery to myself, rather than rob it of its power.

Me and Dulli; best buds.
Once the Whigs were done, we went to the merch table, where I bought Joseph Arthur's latest album, while gushing to him about his performance and had him sign it for me. He did just what I hoped and made a quick, unique drawing on every album he signed. We each also got a picture with him, after Raf bought every Afghan Whigs shirt they had. So, after that, still wired from a great show, we went for a drink across the street. A couple of hours later, on the way to the car, we passed the back of the venue where people had been waiting for the Whigs before. Carlos and Raf walk past and I turn, thinking "that guy looks familiar." As I start to say "isn't that" Raf turns and says, "holy shit, that's Greg Dulli" and nearly wept. Greg was cool as fuck. We each got a pic with him as well. It was a great close to the night, and I'm sure Raf didn't sleep, just staring at the pic of him with Greg and smiling or crying joyfully, because he's the type of guy who, like me (and Carlos), is that affected by music and this was such an important show for him. Music is not to be trifled with.


  1. This was a great review. I was also at the Orlando show. (Flew in from Seattle to catch the Orlando, Atlanta, and New Orleans shows). The energy at the Beacham was great.
    Like you, I am a brand new fan of Joseph Arthur's. I had heard OF HIM, but had never seen him perform....until the first show of the Whigs tour in Portland. When his set was over and he left the stage...I just stood there dumbfounded. Not sure how to express how his performance affected me. All I could say was "DAMN". That was the last week of August. It is now October, and I have done nothing but search for every possible thing he has ever recorded.
    And for the record, the song he sang while painting is called "I Miss the Zoo." I listen to it at least twice everyday.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Thanks to Spotify, I've been listening to all his stuff, too. But I still haven't found the song he did where he ended with a kind of rap/chant thing while stomping out the beat. Any ideas?