The Junction, Cambridge
24th November 1999
Reviewed by James Stewart firstname.lastname@example.org
When an artist plays to an audience more than familiar with their music, it presents a particular dilemma. The artist usually wants to present their latest material, and some in the audience are there to hear it. But many fans are eager to hear the established favorites and will leave disappointed if these are not performed. At this show, Martyn Joseph satisfied both camps by performing 25 songs over two and a half hours.
Joined on stage by keyboards man Nigel Hopkins and six and twelve string guitars, Joseph was his usual bantersome self, joking with the crowd between songs about the complaints he's received regarding the dark themes encompassed in much of his material and the dilemma of trying to pick one of his songs to sing at the weddings he's invited to play at. The audience were quiet but receptive--all seated in the Junction's large concert room.
Opening with two tracks from his new release, Far From Silent, Joseph illustrated why he regards it as the album closest to his live style--but Joseph isn't one to stick to reproducing recorded material as it appears elsewhere, and true to form there were some lyrical changes and other comments which embedded the messages of songs in recent events. One example of such an embedding was the poignant "The Good In Me Is Dead," which was originally about a Bosnian refugee, but was aligned with the current situation in Chechnya.
Before beginning "The Mayor of Candor Lied," a cover of a Henry Chapin number which is a central part of the latest album, Joseph joked that as a result of the song's length he might have some trouble with it. And so when he forgot the lyrics on a couple of lines, it was difficult to tell whether he was serious. A six-minute tawdry tale of deceit and lies, this song is an excellent piece of writing, with each chorus taking on a new meaning as a result of the verse that has preceded it. Accentuated by some playful keyboards and a passionate performance, this could become another cover he makes his own, in a way similar to "One of Us" (originally performed by Joan Osborne).
The material all fitted together well, with a dose of variety between songs afforded by Joseph's diverse influences and the various options available through Hopkins's keyboard's synthesized and sampled sounds. The versatility of the keyboards allowed the use of the accordion sounds from "Liberal Backslider" and a pipes patch on "Cardiff Bay" without sounding overly synthesized. But despite the versatility and skill of the keyboard player it was Joseph's understated guitar playing (especially effective when he moved to the twelve string) and consistently impassioned vocals which were the audience's main focus.
By the end of the set, it began to seem that perhaps stripping back to just twenty songs would have allowed for a tighter set, but I'd be hard pressed to choose five songs to leave out. There were a few in the audience who were new to Joseph's music, but the majority were well familiar with his past efforts. New or old, the crowd were enthusiastic, if quiet, and were treated to an excellent show.