The Troubador was the first venue at which Joseph Arthur combined the two disciplines he works in, painting and singing, and for a return visit he added philanthropy: Visual art he creates onstage during his current tour will be auctioned to raise money for Haitian relief efforts. Friday night’s canvas featured a Picasso-esque collection of multi-colored lines that suggested a face, a common theme in his work.
While Arthur’s music is a caged match of simplicity and complicated odds and ends, his performance also revealed artistic indebtedness, specifically to the happier sides of Neil Young, Oasis and Leonard Cohen.
Arthur’s paintings — several finished works were displayed onstage in addition to the work in progress — have a jumbled quality that exposes the creative process, a contradiction to the fully formed songs he sings. As he has aged — eight albums since Peter Gabriel signed him to Real World in 1996 — his songs have become longer in the number of verses and more compact in the experimental musical tangents.
Performing solo on his current tour, Arthur brought out numerous friends to give his music extra body at the Troubadour, among them Ben Harper, who earlier in the evening appeared with Will Ferrell on Conan O’Brien’s final night hosting “The Tonight Show.” Harper lent high-end harmonies and gently placed slide guitar licks; “Faith” was particularly rootsy.
Violinist Jessy Greene enhanced the mournful and spirited elements of Arthur’s compositions, pumping glee into “Temporary People” and matching Arthur’s exuberance on “In the Sun.” While Arthur applied moss green lines to his painting during the performance of “Invisible Hands,” Greene added deep, dark hues to the electronic drone the singer created. That multi-tasking moment was especially rich.
Arthur’s winter tour includes with a Friday residency at New York’s City Winery, running Feb. 19 to March 26.