Jerry Joseph, Rhythm Room, Phoenix, AZ 4/21
It seemed like every musician in Arizona I'd ever seen was at this gig. Add to that artistic climate an onslaught of camera setups, tapers, writers…yeah, there was a lot of attention being directed at Jerry Joseph on the Rhythm Room stage. That's respect.
"I was very nervous tonight," said Joseph to me in an interview after the show. "I'd never played a solo show in Phoenix before."
"Yes, but you had a relaxed intensity that actually invigorated the songs," I said.
"Half the year, I'll do solo acoustic shows," said Joseph, "This may take a segment of my crowd away. I don't know."
"Blowing My Brains Out" was an interesting song choice considering Hunter S. Thompson's recent suicide," I said.
"A fictional suicide note," said Joseph. "I wrote the song a short time after he passed away it's unrelated. This was the first time I performed it by myself. I'm trying to figure out my niche. Believability goes a long ways. More I do this, the better I get at the other things. I'll keep my band [the excellent Jackmormons]. I like being in the loud rock band. Stockholm Syndrome…[trails off] – this is a big year for Widespread Panic."
Implied edginess aside, Joseph delivered some of his own mojo at the Rhythm Room. Barefoot. Black Print on a White T-Shirt: King Black Acid. Blue Jeans. Blue & Red Skull Cap that lasted one song. Red Jacket with White Letters: NEW YORK. No Shoes. Three…yes, 3 Red Bulls stood on a stool next to a pack of Red Marlboro's. Quick drag off a cigarette. Placed the remains atop the acoustic neck like a smoking totem.
Long, intense, blood shot eyes hooked from the beginning. Rolling Thunder buildup. "Medicine for an angry mind," he sang as he strummed – riff-toying – back into verses-cool swing-"I'm O.K. with everything you say to me." A grand "Golden American."
"A little nervous," he admitted to the crowd. "I change strings daily, so I won't break a string at the start of a show and have to walk off the stage takes a lot of discipline."
And BOOM – no connection at all with the moment but, somehow, absolutely perfect: "Most of my songs are stolen from authors and painters."
"Bears That Dance" followed with a soft pace. Perfect third song of any set loners, never confident with strangers, unable to tell the one they love…Joseph at his finest.
Gulp. Drag. Cig back on guitar. Return to intense…controlled…focused vocals.
Rap about coke and amps (not the beverage; not the musical speakers) at 5am to Midnight lept from roof into a pool. "A song about a friend," said Joseph from the stage. "The Jump." Fast, in-your-face vocals. Again…somehow, perfect. Lots of vigor dropped down into melodic roundabout-freewheeling tight focus. "The ones we love the most are the ones we cannot save." White Light/White Heat VU quotes. "Costa Rica's all played out," he muttered from the stage. "Fuckin' full of tourists." Huge roar like we knew anything about Costa Rica or any place full of tourists. Somehow, perfect. First Set ended and I wondered what just happened. Disjointed yet bear-trap tight; anxious yet deeply passionate and drop dead honest.
"My main influences are Steve Earle, Dylan and Elvis Costello," Joseph told me afterwards. My three empty glasses sat nearby. His glass was filled with ice and a liquid I hoped was whiskey. Man's cool. Hoped he drank the good stuff. Dunno. "I once saw Rage Against The Machine in Glastonbury, England," he continued. "I love that fucking band. Well, Johnny Cash came on after that and it was Rage Who'?"
Second Set enhanced the Joseph Mystique. You don't try to make sense of any of the parts, segments, scenes being played out and wiped from view – you just let the whole thing melt over you until, somehow, the man also flips in-and-out of focus.
Cig placed back on the guitar neck. Second Set.
"Thanks for comin' out," began Joseph. "Thanks to Intelligroove."
More great lyrics surrounded and engulfed the room throughout the next 85 minutes: "...lipstick trace from a Judas face…this is regrettable." Cool, relaxed dry humor (if that's indeed possible). Rappin' about Cowboy Songs & Billy the Kid as he kicked into "Hallelujah Trail" definitive troubadour ballad. "I've got a lot of love for you and I've got a gun to your head."
Another good rap followed: "This is a song about a drug counselor guy who was a fuckin' jerk. It's a drug analogy based on Richard Harris' character in the film "A Man Called Horse."
"Fastest Horse in Town." "I guess I disappoint you," he sang. Out of focus. Later in focus: "saddle up now, baby, I'm the Fastest Horse in Town." Balls on the card table. Deep Moody Honest: "How do you feel NOW?"
The rest of the Second Set was a mixture of the same searching edge of the frontier' quests. Travelogues. Confessionals. Promissory Poems to a Past? Present? Love none at all? Down tempo, upbeat expository death ship: "I'm not afraid to die," he sang. "Ending life before I'm old and boring."
"American Ford" – the Stockholm Syndicate song was played to finish off the set. Arabic-tuned masterpiece featured his most inspired guitar playing and vocal of the evening. Warm vibe was helped by the loud fact that the crowd knew every lyric – "fools on parade" and "its no fun dying young" sentiments brought to mind poetically accurate imagery from '65-'66-era Dylan.
"What will you do the rest of the year?" I asked.
"I'm going back to doing what I do," he said with a big grin. "This is the kind of music I can see myself playing in my 60s if I make it that far."