Joseph Arthur at the Horseshoe, May 27. Tickets: $15.50. Attendance: 250. Rating: NNNN
grunge folkie joseph arthur
took the stage at the Horseshoe on Sunday and the crowd barely noticed. Hunched over his acoustic guitar, his eyes obscured by the tint of red glasses, he looked like a roadie. Then, wearing a wan smile, Arthur drove through a set of seething melodies that would make even a hardened punk rock fan's knees quiver.
On his new disc, Where I'm From, his voice soars with a cracked vibrato that, when it falls to mellow, is never quite comfortable. Onstage live, Speed Of Light blistered with static and reverb as Arthur's howl became a sob in the darkness.
The quiet The Real You, also off his latest record, was half sneer and half sorrow, a combination that makes Arthur one of the few folk rockers left who haven't locked themselves into any one genre. History, the darkest song of the set, bled out of Arthur's falsetto with a huge intensity.
Arthur, known for being a low-key performer, asked between songs, "What's there to do in Toronto?"
The audience screamed back at him, "Drink!"
Arthur smiled gently. "But really," he said.
Someone yelled out, "Bowling!" to which he replied tenderly, "I like bowling. I'm from Akron."
During a second encore, Arthur returned in a tight T-shirt that read, "I love country music." His biceps bulged, and for a moment he became the Adonis of the folk contingent, the kind of guy who attracted shy smiles in high school. When he left the stage for the last time, he cracked a bemused grin and the whole club lit up.