Joan of Arc at Bottom of the Hill, by Patric Carver

Joan of Arc (photo: Patric Carver)

First opening band, Club Night, is a recently formed outfit of veteran musicians from Bay Area bands Meat Market and Twin Steps. They played a tight set, like a band that’s been together for much longer.

While watching them on stage, I couldn’t help but think about how pervasive the influence of The Strokes is in indie rock these days. It seems like every band is playing their guitars from that high, horizontal position and producing that sharp, spiny drive characteristic of The Stroke’s sound. Club Night are no parrots, though, since the rest of their work was original without being derivative. They sounded like the high hopes that I’ve always had for The Libertines that they never managed to grasp. They’ve got that poppy, indie skin with the raw meat of rock underneath: hooky without being predictable, confrontational without being aggressive, and together without being polished. Great sound.

Magas, the second opener, generated arguably minimalist electronica. Containing no lyrical content of note, every song in the set was looped drum beats with Atari-esque sounds imposed over them. The crowd seemed to enjoy it, nodding and moving along. However, no one seemed particularly captivated. Whereas disco was music to dance by, this scant approach to electronic music seemed to be music to shuffle by. Which, I suppose, has its place.

I’m still searching my brain for what place headliners Joan of Arc belong. I recently saw a video of a man online slipping continually for nine seconds while trying to shovel snow. He was trying to right himself, trying to find something to hold on to. That’s how I felt watching this performance.

I think, oddly, that might be just what Joan of Arc is going for. Coming to the stage with a stringless prop guitar in hand, band newcomer Melina Ausikaitis clutched the guitar-shaped object to her chest like a mother holding a sick child. Crooning through their first song, she stroked the plain white face of the object lovingly. When that song ended, she began to appear to blow into the object, while gazing out to the crowd as if to say to the audience, “Are you confused enough yet?”

Joan of Arc is somewhat known for their willingness to displease, having been quoted before as making “music for no audience.” That may be true, but their longevity suggests otherwise. I think they are playing for someone, not a certain type of music lover. Rather, a person with a certain mindset. I think their existence is largely dependent on the Emperor’s-new-clothes effect — producing something so strange that it is labeled art simply because it can’t be figured out. They’re playing for the people who want to see it, who want to believe there’s something there. And those people are out there. At one point Ausikaitis launched into a stream-of-consciousness a cappella piece that fluctuated between a sing-song borderline baby talk voice and a demonic voice. When she finished, a woman in the audience near me turned to her companion and said, “That was beautiful!” Her companion furrowed his brow, shook his head, and said, “I don’t get it.”

I can’t say I “got it,” either, but I don’t know if that matters. The point of Joan of Arc seems to be less about making music and more about making an impression, however befuddling.

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