When Joyner played the opening chords of “747” from the Golden Age landmark album, 1994’s The Cowardly Traveler Pays His Toll, I was transported back to the last time I heard Joyner play the song, standing on stage at the old Howard St. Tavern with a drummer behind him, an electric guitar slung around his neck instead of the usual acoustic, and a head of curly black hair. That night was Joyner’s ’65 Newport performance, the first time I’d seen him “electric.” And it was electric. It was a perfect moment that I never heard repeated again, until last night.
Every Joyner performance is a unique journey that could just as easily drift into dissonant chaos as splendid order. Last night’s O’Leaver’s gig was the latter. Backed by the Wind-up Birds, a band that includes guitarist/keyboardist Dave Hawkins, keyboardist/guitarist/pedal steel player Alex McManus, bassist Mike Tulis and drummer Chris Deden (at least I think that was him), Joyner found himself in the middle of solid rock, albeit with its fair share of rustic twang. This incarnation of Simon Joyner casts off the dark-blue Leonard Cohen frock for a well-wrinkled straw hat and western-cut shirt. No, the new music isn’t C&W or alt-country, it’s Joyner backed by The Band circa Blonde on Blonde. Equal parts folk, country, blues and rock, Joyner’s new material sit atop a bed of broken-glass guitar noise, thick meaty bass and plenty of feedback. Joyner seems to have found the proverbial sweet-spot where melody and dissonance meet to form a beautiful, soulful noise that burns going down.
I don’t know the names of the songs and couldn’t tell you what he was singing (the vocals, though plenty up front, were still lost in the mix). I can tell you they were heartfelt and that I hope he includes a lyric sheet with the new record. The highlights included a song performed toward the end of the set where Hawkins switched to keyboards, pounding out Ray Manzarek-style keyboards atop one of Tulis’ simple bass lines. As the song ground toward its inevitable conclusion, the band put itself and the crowd dead center deep within a trance-inducing riff that repeated itself like a throbbing headache (in a good way). Moments later, they followed it up with “747,” a song that everyone in the ass-to-tea kettle crowd seemed to know even though you’ll never find a copy of that record anywhere (even the folks at AMG don’t list the album on their Joyner discography). It was a perfect fit for this band — the best collection of musicians that I’ve heard Joyner perform with. It begs the question as to how tightly sewn this conglomeration of talent is. Would they tour with Joyner if he wanted to tour? Could they? Would they? Who knows. I know that if they did hit the road together, they would gouge a permanent mark across stages throughout this country and others. I wonder if Joyner wants that. He could have it all right now.
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