Joan of Arc are a band unstuck in time. Not because of Tim Kinsella’s Suicidal Tendencies t-shirt, or Bobby Burg’s trucker hat, or the stack of cassette tapes on the merch table of all their old recordings. But, despite having been a band for the past 15 or so years, they have still not succumbed to indie rock mores or made themselves easily compartmentalized into the sub-genre-of-the-weeks. They’re not one step ahead, nor one step behind, but the rotating cast of characters that make up Chicago-based Joan of Arc seems to be sidestepping the scene altogether.
In response to a heckler at last night’s show at Shea Stadium yelling “Joan of Arc is for dads,” Kinsella quipped, “What do you want us to do? Stop? I’m sorry we got old. Bands are supposed to get popular or break up.” They’ve done neither, but remain the perennial model of an art rock band chugging away at their craft.
Presumably the unfamiliar songs that made up the first two-thirds of the set were from Oh, Brother, the band’s forthcoming 14th album. Fourteen. And they don’t really seem to show signs of slowing. The band has always been a little bit more rock ‘n’ roll live than they are on record, but these songs sound particularly rockin’. The current lineup joining Kinsella (the one Joan of Arc constant) brings back Victor Villarreal playing intricate, but still often thick and rich, guitar, Bobby Burg on bass, and Theo Katsaounis pounding away on drums. The guitar/bass/drums/vocals arrangements may be what makes these songs come off as more rock and roll than overly artsy, but the weirdness still shines through and still feels exciting.
After playing these new songs and engaging in quite a bit of modest/snarky banter with the crowd, the band launched into “What Whorse You Wrote Id On,” a song by Owls (one of their many offshoots, the number of which would take days to roadmap). And I am sure that I was not the only one in there who got instantly excited hearing those first chords and found ourselves shouting “Every face I saw was the same face!” Because while Joan of Arc has persevered for so long, these side-bands like Owls (or Make Believe, or Ghosts and Vodka, and so on and so on…) sometimes last for only an album or two. And those of us who may have missed Owls at the handful of shows they played in 2001/2002 thought the ship may have sailed on us seeing the songs from their self-titled release performed live. When the followed “What Whorse…” with “Anyone Can Have A Good Time,” (a one-two punch of the record’s first and second songs) it seemed like a possibility that they were going to play the full Owls record.
That didn’t turn out to be the case. They did, however, end with a beloved old tune – “Let’s Wrestle” from 1997’s A Portable Model Of. The fact that this song didn’t sound out of place amongst their new material which seemed to fit in fine with the Owls material (a set spanning quite a few years), speaks to the band’s capability to remain wholly themselves. They didn’t release a garage rock record when The Strokes first blew up and so many bands jocked their style. They didn’t put out a “chill-wave” record in 2009 when everyone was swooning for it. And maybe Joan of Arc’s kind of snark-heavy, one-liner style does spark a love it/hate it response in listeners, you can’t take away that what they are doing is theirs.
Last night’s show at Shea Stadium was the start of their tour leading up to the February 8 release of Oh, Brother. They are returning to New York to play Mercury Lounge on February 1 if you missed them this time, or if you saw them, since they promised “We’ll be playing different songs at that show. Some of the same songs, but some different.” The rest of their tour dates are below.
01/21/11 Fri Philadelphia, PA Johnny Brenda’s W/ Soft Circle
01/22/11 Sat Baltimore, MD Golden West Cafe W/ Soft Circle
01/23/11 Sun Richmond, VA Strange Matter w/ Pillars & Tongues
01/25/11 Tue Orlando, FL Backbooth w/ Pillars & Tongues
01/26/11 Wed Pembroke Pines, FL The Talent Farm w/ Pillars & Tongues
01/27/11 Thu Ybor City, FL New World Brewery w/ Pillars & Tongues
01/28/11 Fri Gainesville, FL Common Grounds w/ Pillars & Tongues
01/29/11 Sat Pensacola, FL Handlebar w/ Pillars & Tongues
01/31/11 Mon Washington, DC Black Cat Backstage w/ Pillars & Tongues
02/01/11 Tue New York, NY Mercury Lounge w/ Pillars & Tongues
02/02/11 Wed New Haven, CT Bar Night Club w/ Out Like Lambs
02/03/11 Thu Pittsburgh, PA Garfield Artworks w/ Out Like Lambs
02/04/11 Fri Indianapolis, IN Melody Inn w/ Out Like Lambs
02/05/11 Sat Champaign, IL Cowboy Monkey w/ Out Like Lambs