Music critics often become gatekeepers of what is cool and what is not. Most reviews, largely due to the accessibility of the internet, can come down whether one should go to the show or buy it or not. There isn’t room for the grey areas of, well this not for everybody but there are merits to their art. A band with an eclectic discography can be derided by stupid critics who’ve barely got a degree to write a simple review. Joan of Arc is a working horse of a band, their music spans decades. They have probably made more interesting album pieces and sound changes than most bands would ever venture. They are great at subverting expectations of what their fans think Joan of Arc should sound like. Whereas most band’s “experimentation” would be within the confines of what will get them good reviews from sites like pitchfork or other music journalist sites, Joan of Arc really tries hard to give the fans not what they want, but what they need from them. The band shifts their focus to their front woman, Melina Ausikaitis, vocals in “1984,” which is more impressive live. On July 10, 2018, Joan of Arc plays with local legend Rob Crow at the Soda Bar. This could have been a lineup match that one would have at the Che Café in the 1990’s or 2000’s, making for one of the more interesting shows at the Soda Bar as well as shows on their tour.
Rob Crow brought a more retrospective set to open the show. Having an equally eclectic discography as Joan of Arc, with bands ranging from Heavy Vegetables to Anal Trump, Rob Crow’s acoustic show can pull from a lot of music making for an unpredictable and exciting set. He plays his Martin acoustic guitar through an amp that is mic’d. Though he is not promoting any new music while playing as the opening act, he does have a lot of albums coming out this year, with my favorite project, Optiganally Yours already out digitally and a 2018 Artist in Residence collaboration with Joyful Noise coming out as well. His acoustic guitar playing is very angular with a very fast rhythms and changes. It’s interesting to see the differentiations between his songs, which are rarely simple chords to the covers he chooses to do, which use barre chords. The songs translate very well from a full band setting to acoustic guitar. Vocals seem like they take a lot of breath between each song and he has very good breath control. He played notable songs from his Heavy Vegetables project, including “Song for Wesley,” “Thingy,” “Junior,” and “Couch.” He also played songs from his other project, Thingy, which includes “Ropeswing” and “Cutest Baby.” Rob Crow is always impressive at playing, and even if one hasn’t heard of his music, they would be hard pressed not to acknowledge how technically skilled he is at both guitar and vocals. What’s more impressive than his musically ability is that he is a great guy with immense knowledge. I got to hear him talk about his favorite comic book writers, which include Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, and David Lapham. He says he hasn’t caught up since the DC Comic’s New 52 but that’s okay, they’ve moved on to DC Rebirth anyways. For anyone who wants recommendations from Rob Crow, he suggested reading “Stray Bullets” by David Lapham. So check it out!
Joan of Arc played a progressive set from a band searching for their next sound. Before I get into the sound, their set up was something worth noting. There were a lot of instruments on, even for a five piece band. One person had a laptop with electronic hardware in their section, the bass player had a keyboard and even the drummer had a guitar by his side. The shear amount of work to set up the gear is probably a lot of work, let alone caring this on tour and making sure each piece of gear work exactly and accordingly. The immense set up for the show proved to be more than useful in the show as members would switch between instruments, including the drummer who would play drums and guitar at the same time. Every member had at least another instrument to play on top of the other normative instrument. I’m not sure what people really expect when they see a band with their vast discography, usually bands would have a hit or two and hone in their familiar songs to allow casual listeners to feel comfortable. But Joan of Arc, with their daunting catalog, begs for deep cuts as well as music from their new album. Joan of Arc opted to perform a lot from their new album, which is a pleasant surprise; it really demonstrates that they feel really confident in their new directions. Seeing them perform songs such as “Tiny Baby,” “Punk Kid,” and “Truck” shows gave me new perspective and appreciation for their newer songs. With lyrics about being a tiny baby can be off putting at first, but hearing it live brought me new perspectives to the song. I understand it is the phonetics, the way it is being sang that really matters here. A friend who came with me was concerned about seeing the band with the new direction, but there was really nothing to fear. There is new appreciation for Melina Ausikaitis’ vocals. They were truly a highlight for me as she sang with boldness. There is a sincerity and vulnerability that is almost uncomfortable, like a light that is too bright to see anything. Joan of Arc as a band demonstrates almost a chaotic nature in their sound. They can be rock band; they can be experimental as hell too. The front woman Melina Ausikatis carried around her what almost looks like a guitar, but it was more percussive than anything. She would tap different objects to create knocking noises, it sounded almost like crickets in a forest. The show was almost a variety show of noise as they would play their songs as a full band and end with noises. The bass player would play bass in the more overtly band atmosphere and end with sounds from his Casio keyboard. Occasionally, he would end the songs with a microphone capturing any feedback noise, most likely sampling the noise on his Casio sk-1 keyboard. Tim Kinsella, frontman of Joan of Arc, was very vibrant as he played three different instruments or sounds, sometimes using them all in one song. He would switch from his guitar, to his keyboard that sometime would play one note, and what appeared to be an Ipad. I’m assuming he’s making more noise with that. Towards the end of his set, he thanks the crowd in a soft spoken voice. He mentions how strange it is to be playing with fellow musician Rob Crow. Almost a “time warp” as the band called it. I would agree with this sentiment, this is definitely a show that is one for the books in San Diego. Two acts that are in different stages in their musical careers, both are still surviving after many different shifts in the music cultural landscape. They are both still underrated in the sheer amount of talent they brought tonight.
I have to admit, reviewing music is very strange, how can one really rate an experience? I’m also not one to gate keep what is cool and what is not in music because what matters to me is surely not worth profiting from as I’m still trying to figure how to make a living off music as well. All I can say is that see Rob Crow as many times as one can possibly see him; he truly is a San Diego legend. As for Joan of Arc, although they played a chaotic and confusing set, I left wanting more from them. I felt that by the end of their set, they have only scratched the surface of what sounds they can do.