Simon Joyner The Trunk Space Monday, July 16, 2012
Here's why (like myself, a few weeks ago) you probably haven't heard of Simon Joyner: He's really not fond of fame. Despite collaborating with The Mountain Goats, impacting Beck in his early years and having a profound influence on Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, Joyner's preferred to stay in the shadows throughout his twenty year career.
The Omaha singer/songwriter doesn't care if you know him, and over the years, he's even been vaguely ignorant of his own miniscule fame.
In the '90s, when Joyner released The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll, legendary European DJ John Peel caught wind of it, playing the album from beginning to end on his radio show, having only done that once before in his broadcast's 30 years. Joyner was completely unaware of what came to be known as the "Peel Incident" until he was interviewed by reporters from Germany and the Netherlands who brought it up.
It follows that Joyner's played to an intimate crowd in Phoenix. It was a Monday night, with maybe twenty-five people at The Trunk Space, making Joyner's show secluded, a little lonesome and most of all, inconspicuous.
Joyner was joined by a full band that crafted a sound very different from the solo acoustics selection dotting YouTube. But his violinist and keyboardist made it easier for Joyner to evoke Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, two legends that Joyner may actually deserve to be compared to. He captivated his small audience with an alt-country drone that at times, felt mystic.
One moment, a Joyner song could nearly suffocate you with pure, raw emotion. The next moment, like when Joyner strayed into "I Wrote a Song About the Oceans," would have you inflated with a helium-like joy. While mostly about escape, hitting the road or finding love, some of Joyner's lyrics were grotesquely violent, describing disembowelments, castrations and stillborn babies.
The best way to describe his performance is "haunting." Joyner's thrilling breakdowns and walls of sound have influence from shoegaze or noise rock, especially the way lead guitarist David Nance improvised sliding with his Bic lighter while knocking against his amp. This is the kind of noise that'll stay with you like a possessive spirit. It was only appropriate Joyner played many songs from his upcoming album, Ghosts.
Wearing a Nebraska t-shirt and a Cuban-style army hat, Joyner didn't move much from the microphone, standing with his eyes closed. But when the band closed with "The Only Living Boy in Omaha," Joyner suddenly came to life, clutching his guitar tightly and vibrating up and down.
For an encore, Joyner played one song with his old friends, the local Michael Krassner and Will Hendricks, who opened for him.
Joyner said he hadn't played with Krassner in over five years, so they chose a song that was one of the most desolate of the night, "The Rain Asked for a Holiday," from The Lousy Dance. Hendricks played on the 1999 album and Krassner produced it, so it felt a little like rewatching the creative process. When it was over, it felt like waking from a trance.
Last Night: Simon Joyner, Skinny Shamans, Sundressed, Bryant Vazquez, Michael Krassner. The Crowd: Hardly anyone. Overheard next door: "Do you guys mind if I roll a spliff?" Other guy: "Why are you even asking?" First guy: "It's like if I was a giant, obese person with a tray filled with a dozen hamburgers. I'm just asking if you mind if I inhale." Personal bias: I grew up listening to Beck and Bright Eyes, but hadn't heard of Joyner until this summer. I'm terrible.