In what seemed a bit of an odd coupling, teen band Ponytail got the crowd grinding with their frenzied yelping and insane energy before the main event, Chicago’s Joan of Arc. Or perhaps the varied bill makes perfect sense, since throughout their surprisingly long career JOA have defied categorization and continually changed and updated their sound. After being pummeled by such a swath of noise and energy, the revelers settled down as singer/guitarist Tim Kinsella took the stage solo for the gentle “Shown and Told.” In response to the giggles incited by that number’s mention of a “hermaphrodite stepfather,” Kinsella noted there was now proof that despite a reputation as very serious, Joan of Arc could also be fun. This discovery was an appropriate beginner for the set, as the band who have been accused of being deliberately cryptic or strange proved their desire to present a story that the listener could interpret for themselves. As he went on to ramble to the audience throughout the set, telling stories that were half analysis and half explanation, Kinsella sheepishly weaved the tale of the band that is at once self-aware and appropriately detached – the songs may mean one thing to the artist, but should be interpreted as they will by each individual ear.
Thusly engaged and schooled in the Joan of Arc catalog, the show felt like a rather intimate evening, a sentiment also aided by the Knitting Factory’s smallish space. In a live setting and without the aid of fancy studio techniques, their sound comes across with more of a garagey, indie feel than a group known for its sonic exploration and experimentation. This is not entirely inappropriate, given the tendency towards a guitar band sound on their latest Boo Human, though that album is certainly not without its jazzy tempos and electronic blips. The show’s touring lineup expertly reflected the JOA’s current direction with guys on guitar and bass providing accompaniment for songs that became more rockin’ as a result, not to mention the extended jam sessions that ended a number of the tunes. Notably free of “weird” sounds, one lone man on a humble keyboard and xylophone setup provided organ tones and some percussive backup. Of course, in one evening it would be impossible for these folks to accurately represent their entire catalog of music, and so the focus here was on the enjoyment of the moment and what the individual chose to take away from it. Personal outlook was key as Kinsella told the story of his idea during their Japanese tour to make up a batch of T-shirts, some reading “Life is easy” and others “Life is hard,” just to see which variety would sell the most.