Joan of Arc at the hi-dive, 5/5/11
So much noodling. That's all there really is to say about Joan of Arc. It's guitar-noodling masked behind a pop song. It's not a bad thing, but it is what it is -- and it still strikes me as odd that the kids are still into it. Not that many, mind you -- the hi-dive was relatively empty last night, but there were enough people around to make it seem vibrant.
The beginning of the evening was pretty slow. Nobody was really around, people didn't seem interested in rock, and I was seriously questioning why the hell the show was eighteen and up, other than, perhaps, to ensure it'd be over by midnight. Even after the bulk of the people arrived, it wasn't the crowd I'd expect for Joan of Arc, but maybe I'm overestimating their popularity based solely on how many people used to like them.
Fire Season started the night off with some very '90s indie rocks sounds. On a timeline, the band's sound would land somewhere in between Sunny Day Real Estate and the later screamier stuff of the early '00s -- angsty, but poppy, with a hint of technical ambition. They were hard to gauge on a quick listen, but it seemed like there was something brewing that might be interesting in the long run. They had a short set, did their thing with little banter and then left.
After Fire Season came the similar-in-their-stage-presence Air Waves. At this point, the crowd was starting to warm up to the idea of a band performing in front of them, but only slightly. The head nodding was kept at a level that wouldn't be confused for excited, and the clapping was somewhere between a polite golf clap and a high school graduation.
That was actually rather fitting for the New York based band, though. The dudes were shy as all hell up on the stage, making it seem like we were all privy to some weird talent show without judges. They played their upbeat, adorable indie rock quite well, but when it came time to actually talk, the band just crumbled.
Musically, Air Waves is a bit hard to pin down -- not because the group sounds different, but because it sounds like so many things: Guided by Voices, Earlimart, Indie Band Number One, Two, Three. That's not to say the outfit don't do what it does well -- because it does, but as a live act alone, the band was hard to differentiate from anything else.
After some tuning, some noodling, some sound checking and then some more noodling, Joan of Arc finally came along to, well, noodle some songs together. If you've never heard Joan of Arc, it's relatively simple to describe the act's songs: they start with a guitar solo, then the vocals come along, then an epic power chord comes though, then some guitar noodling, then the song stops suddenly mid-beat. That doesn't sound enjoyable at all, but somehow, they manage to pull it off.
The other appeal of Joan of Arc, something that longtime fans seem to appreciate, is the fact that occasionally play an Owls song. I'm pretty sure that happened last night. I say pretty sure because, well, I'll be honest: I love Joan of Arc, Owls and Cap 'n' Jazz, but I can't tell any of their songs apart. The JOA guys could have been playing Promise Ring songs for all I know.
But the crowd -- they wanted the band to play the old songs -- all the songs from all the bands that weren't actually playing on the stage at that moment. It must be a bit surreal to be in a band that has been playing in enough different iterations that people request songs from a band that you aren't.
For his part, singer Tim Kinsella was relatively reserved during all this. His banter was kept at a minimum, and he tended to shrug off the usual slew of weird ass commentary from the audience. He was also lacking the poncho that he had last time I saw him, which was oddly disappointing for no real reason other than it was really weird seeing it and I wanted to see it again.
He's still got his quirks, though -- and he still weirds out a bit on stage, nearly stuttering, sometimes jittering and clearly holding his tongue at the random comments from the crowd. He's notoriously kind of a dick, but last night he was just kind of a weirdo, which is a far better thing to see on stage.
Musically, Joan of Arc was spot-on, as always. The dynamic seems to have always been the same, too: Tim Kinsella acts slightly odd, the bass player smiles a lot, the other guitar player stands perfectly still and noodles around, while the drummer bangs really hard on the drums. It works, and even if Joan of Arc hasn't changed its sound over the years, it's still the only band doing what it's doing, and that's saying something.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I've been a fan of Joan of Arc, Owls and Cap 'n' Jazz for a long while. Random Detail: I finally met Patrick Riley of Tennis. We talked about illegitimate midget dictators on imaginary soap operas. By the Way: Joan of Arc had a bunch of cassettes for sale. So that's a thing.