Joan of Arc @ The Casbah, San Diego 5/16/11
Review by Kent Manthie
On Monday, May 16th a select few lucky San Diegans were honored to be present at a blissful show: the amazing Chicago outfit Joan of Arc played an outrageous, stupendous and awesome show at the Casbah. Opening up was local band Street of Little Girls and Airwaves, from the East Coast.
About 11 or so the main event got going: Tim Kinsella, Theo Katsaounis, Victor Villareal and Bobby Burg on bass. They opened with a blistering version of the opening cut from their new CD, Life Like, “The Messed Binds of My Generation”, a 10-minute tune on the CD, but stretched even further onstage, they were gleefully jamming and wailing away as loudly as they could and were each other’s perfect complement. Drummer Theo was bashing the hell out of his rather spartan drum kit, he kept great time along with bassist Bobby, but the bombastic percussion was no match for the twin lead guitars of Tim Kinsella and Victor Villareal, who were really both lead guitarists. Sometimes Tim would be strumming away feverishly while Victor would add some nice, piercing lead effects and other times they’d both be intricately playing together. The whole band had their respective equipment turned up to the max, so, for instance, no matter how anarchically loud Tim & Victor tore it up, they never drowned out Bobby on bass, as the heavy, thick bulging tones from his Fender bass guitar was never overpowered. And of course, nothing could stop Theo from the catharsis of his percussive powerhouse.
For the most part, Joan of Arc played new material, besides the aforementioned “The Messed Binds of My Generation”, they also played “Love Life”, “Howdy Pardoner”, “Still Life” and “Like Minded”. To throw the crowd for a loop they also did a cover of an Owls tune (one of the many side projects of members who’ve come and gone over the years) and the what was hilarious about that one was that after they finished it some smart ass from the audience yelled up to the band that that must’ve been a “financially sound” decision – to do a cover of one of their own songs, basically, to which Tim had a Lenny-Bruce-esque come back, going on and on about the fact that they’re not thinking about stupid stuff like that and, no, being “financially sound” wasn’t the reason for doing the song – they did it because they liked it and wanted to play it so they did and to hell with “financial soundness”; anyway, bottom line is that this guy sure got a mouthful out of Tim for saying something so odd, so…un-rock & roll, he said “ what a dickhead – that’s like something my dad might’ve said to me when I was between 17 and 22, so, no, it was about playing a song we wanted to play because it sounds cool, Mr. Wall Street”.
There was a good amount of between song banter going on, not that heavy, but usually just Tim going on about how he loves to eat burritos everyday and that he hadn’t had the chance to get one yet – and this in the border town of San Diego, where there are burritos everywhere – and usually pretty good ones!
Besides the Owls tune, they did one other older JOA song from mid-career era and then went back to a couple more new tunes. Then, before you knew it, it was like after midnight – meaning that they were playing so well and the vibe of the show was such that it was lively and fun and despite there only being about 50 or so people there (what the hell happened? Doesn’t anyone in San Diego except me and my girlfriend know who Joan of Arc are?) It was still a great, great time. In fact, that small group of people made it into a much more intimate show, providing for the up-close and personal dialogue between band and audience. Actually, I, who was standing right up in front of the stage didn’t even notice that the audience was so thin until Tim mentioned that fact – he said he’d tell his grandma that there were 60 people there to make it look better! Still, I couldn’t help feeling kind of sorry for them, coming out here to San Diego to play a great show – better than anything that’s been in town all year – there hasn’t been anyone worth seeing here at any clubs since Sonic Youth played at the House of Blues last year. I’m hoping that thing’s will sort of come together and maybe over the summer there will be a number of great shows to see to make up for the dearth of worthwhile acts to see. While wandering around the Casbah I did happen to notice a showbill that read “Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts” and at the bottom, written in a colored Sharpie pen was the date: July 30. Now, since there were showbills all over the room, ones from recent shows, ones from way back when, I wasn’t sure if this was for a real upcoming show or if it was something dated. Well, I will soon find out because that is something I’m definitely going to be at.
Anyway, about 12:30 or so, Joan of Arc, with almost no warning, came to the end of the show, modestly announcing that “this is our last song” and then that was it, no encore, nothing – they just finished up and went their merry way. But they ended on a good note: the finale was a song from their very first album, A Portable Model of Joan of Arc, entitled “Let’s Wrestle”. That was worth sticking around for.
All in all the whole thing was a blast. I wouldn’t change anything – I’d love to see them come back – I hope the sparseness of the crowd didn’t turn them off to San Diego, even though it is a crummy town, full of snobby Republicans and tourists. But, no matter, whatever town you’re in, there’s always a subculture of hipsters who dig good music and know where to go to find it. I doubt I’ll see another show as good in a long time, no matter how big the crowd is or how “famous” the band may be. That means nothing – it’s the talent of the band and the craftiness of their songwriting that counts, nothing else matters. -KM