Concert Review: Joshua James w/ Cory Chisel - Velour (Provo, UT)
I was especially excited to see Joshua James play as I hadn't seen him perform in quite some time, and with the venue just minutes from my house, the opportunity was really too good to not take advantage of. The Velour is a small indie venue that plays mostly local and regional acts, James being perhaps the biggest name to come through in several months. The space is fairly small but it's more often cozy than cramped, and they artsy decorations add a nice bit of ambiance to the place. On this particular evening, the crowd took a while to fill in and it never got too claustrophobic unless you stuffed yourself up front.
My date and I chose to give ourselves some space from the throng and waited for the opening act - Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons - to take the stage. I'd heard little about Cory Chisel, but it was enough to make me excited to see him perform live. From the first song, he greatly exceeded my modest expectations and he and his talented band played a strong set. Their Southern-influenced rock 'n' roll was better live even than the few recorded songs I heard, ranging from upbeat anthems to lonesome country ballads, all equally impressive. The crowd was gracious and warmed up quickly to the group, who struck a good balance between on-stage banter and getting through their set quickly enough to get everyone to the headliner.
And when Joshua James came on stage - the feeling in the room changed considerably. Despite all the equipment placed around him, James entered alone with his old acoustic guitar in the complete darkness - though a red light soon gave the room an eerie glow. He opened with a set of three songs I hadn't actually heard, which meant that they weren't on either of his full-length releases or included in the handful of non-album cuts I have. But each was beautiful and characteristically melancholy, a mood which prevailed through his entire set - even when the band joined Joshua on stage and the lights became brighter. James did seem to have a good time on a couple of the group's more aggressive rockers like "Black July" and "Coal War," both of which showcased the group's skill and James's ability to really let loose, though he had an ever better time covering The Doors' "People are Strange" which was absolutely fantastic.
Through both the contemplative folk songs and the louder numbers, James was captivating - his emotional intensity creating an electric atmosphere in the room and the crowd was entranced for the entire set. Eventually, the band exited the stage and left their front man to close out the set like it began, with some solo acoustic numbers including a couple personal favorites - "In the Middle" from the new album and "Lovers Without Love," a b-side from his debut. Again, James created a sense of intimacy and closeness that I've experienced very few times at a show like this, and by the time he was finished, it almost felt wrong to applaud so reverent was the setting. Yet we cheered anyway - and loudly, and even though the band's encore was only one song, the heartbreaking "Dangerous," it was certainly a welcome few more minutes we all got to spend with this enigmatic but personable performer.
All-in-all, Saturday night was a great evening that at least met and probably exceeded what I had expected from both bands - I highly recommend the experience for fans of either group or even if you just want a good rock show. If you haven't been introduced, links are below to their MySpace pages, which should include tour dates as well.
Joshua James - MySpace
Cory Chisel - MySpace
Cory Chisel photo by St. Vincent Skeltis