JOSEPH @ The Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver – May 19th 2023 © Julia Verea

Live Review: JOSEPH + Flyte @ The Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver – May 19th 2023

 At a criminally undersold show at the Commodore this weekend, the soulful sisters of three-piece Portland band Joseph played their hearts out to a modest but adoring crowd. Not familiar with their music until seeing them on the touring circuit, I seized the opportunity to catch them live and walked away a fan. Bringing their signature blend of relatable and emotionally delving lyrics, life-affirming three-part harmonies, and an undeniable ear for gripping songwriting. With influences ranging from country and folk, to rock and indie pop, the band has cultivated a joyful and confident sound all the more present on their fourth studio album The Sun. The ladies, rounded out by a percussionist and keyboard/guitarist, delivered an unforgettable performance that ran the gammit of life’s highs and lows in song.

Touring with Joseph on their debut of The Sun, were two core members of the London-based ensemble Flyte. Joseph frontwoman Natalie Closner confessed at the show that she was more than humbled that one of her actual favourite bands was opening for them, and based on Flyte’s stellar set I can see why. The two groups met at a gig in Hyde Park and, Closner said, “I was transfixed for life.” Flyte opted for a fully unplugged and unaccompanied line-up of just two acoustic guitars and two voices melding as one from the exceptionally talented songwriting duo consisting of Will Taylor and Nick Hill. 

Will was as charming with his stage banter as the two were entrancing with their skillful strumming and enchanting harmonies. As they launched into “Losing You” off their 2021 album This Is Really Going to Hurt, one could pick up quite quickly that the record is nothing if not a break-up album. “Not a particularly original notion,” frontman Will admitted, “but it’s going to happen. The first song on the album was written the day after…and then it just keeps going on.” The tunes were steeped in bitterness and chagrin, the men’s voices melding beautifully over artfully complementary guitar lines, topped only by the vintage melancholy of “Everyone’s a Winner”.

The duo moved into a fan request from their first album which Will candidly described as really hard to play. “Kindness may be required,” he warned, but drifted seamlessly into a beautifully picked odyssey with complex chord changes very reminiscent of Kings of Convenience. Glad that that piece had come off and that it was now over, the two decided to push the boat out and debut a song that they had just finished after spending the last 7 years writing it. “We want to try it out to see if we haven’t wasted an enormous amount of time,” Will stated with deadpan humour. “But then you’re Canadian, you’re too nice, so it’s a useless experiment. In the UK they would just say you’re shit.” The build-up was tremendous as Will detailed a meandering writing process marked with strife, including the extending of an invite for a British poet laureate to write their lyrics for them, the fast-paced delivery of lyrics by said poet, and finally the awkward rejection of those lyrics when they didn’t fit. After dogged perseverance, the result was a cheeky little number with a Beatles-like sensibility called “Chelsea Smiles” which I would say was well worth the wait.

Nick and Will peppered the set with old and new, featuring the first song they ever wrote together called “Faithless” off the debut album that made quite the splash in London and earned them the accolade of being called “best British band of 2017”. They then showcased a new song coming out soon, a taste of their forthcoming album with which they will be touring later this year–be sure to check them out when they roll through town again. They left us on a high with the jaunty rhythms of “Cathy Come Home”, cementing themselves in the hearts of the audience.

Joseph wasted no time hitting the stage, Natalie and her twin sisters Meegan and Allison taking their places in a line of microphones at the front of the stage. Starting with an introduction by way of invocation with a round of “Love is Flowing”, immediately filling the room with the warmth and intimacy that the group emanates in their music. They launched into a smattering of powerhouse numbers spanning their four albums, blowing up the stage with energetic and anthemic hits like “Nervous System”. The three clicked in with each others’ voices so effortlessly to an incredible effect Natalie strummed all the while on her guitar. If the soaring vocals had not been enough leading up to it, the women really let it rip on the battle cry of “White Flag”, raising goosebumps to the racing cadence and uninhibited drum beat. The sound of their voices live and unmixed was truly unparalleled.

Endearing themselves further to the crowd, Natalie shared a bit about the making of their new album, calling it a documentation of a lot of personal growth. “It’s about learning from mistakes instead of avoiding them,” she said sagely. “Hashtag not about trauma.” The Sun is a very vulnerable piece that founts from deep inner reflection during a time of personal growth and a shift in perspective, framed by the courage to address limiting forces in our lives from without and within. Their map of insights in this album rings so true that I’m sure there wasn’t a soul in the room who didn’t resonate wholly with at least one tune that evening. 

Meegan laid everything bare when speaking about the writing process: “Say you were in a relationship that was really hard…and say you’re writing songs…and you suck. We did that.” She confessed that she had even more songs written to process the pain, but didn’t want to revisit that headspace nightly on stage so ended up cutting some pretty good songs from the album. Thank you “Slow Dance” made the cut, as it’s a stunning piece of writing accepting the pain of an ending relationship while appreciating it for the good contained within. Cool discordant and ghostly lines formed a loud wall of wavy guitar eminating from hardworking accompaniment in the back of the stage during the ballad, dropping out for a haunting a capella ending.

The journey of self-exploration continuated with another Sun track “Tell Me About You”, a deep and dark crawl of a song inspired by Natalie’s mantra to stay curious and empathetic about herself, urging that you should never put yourself in a box. Yet another tender moment from their new album was in “Waves Crash”, just the beltiest, piercingly beautiful number about growing up in a system that says you’re so bad and you have to work hard to be good, a nod to the girls’ Christian upbringing. “I can change my story line,” Natalie stated. Being engulfed in the high-reaching intonations of the song’s rafter was like group therapy, as the instrumentalists  built up to a wall of sound from nothing at all.

For all the poignant moments, the show was so very infused with fun, with a fiery roster of tunes feeling part frontier country, part indie pop. Their country influence was confirmed as Natalie shared a story of the band’s inception at a time when she had been pursuing a solo career. “2008 was the first time I heard these two sing,” she told, “which is criminally late because we’ve been siblings for a long time. I was the eldest so needed to be the centre of attention.” She said she heard the two sitting in the kitchen and eating ramen, singing along to Rascall Flatts on the radio and realised for the first time that these two had pipes. She recruited them as backup vocalists for the album she was planning, and the rest was history. Paying homage to this memory, the twins made some show-stopping moments in a cover of their favourite sad song “Here Comes Goodbye”. 

The covers didn’t stop there, as the trio invited the lads from Flyte back on stage for a rendition of Bahamas’ “Lost in the Light”. It was a lovely and sweet arrangement that saw the two groups trading verses, humming spell-binding harmonies, and joining together like a powerful choir on the chorus, like a supergroup in the making. Joseph showed their hopeful and romatic side with slow jam “Side Effects” and into the equally romantic but heartily more triumphant and hard-hitting “Without You”. Natalie was absolutely wailing to perfection at the song’s finale, death dropping to the ground before bouncing up to bop with the drummer and doing a rock-and-roll stage jump.

“We’ll be right back,” the ladies said as they bounced off stage. Ambient guitar tones and atmospheric drum fills built anticipation of the encore and Joseph bounded back after a quick costume change into matching lavender boiler suits. Launching the last arrows in their quiver, continuing to astonish with their remarkable vocals in the latest album’s titular track and fun flourishes in “Green Eyes”. There couldn’t be a better way to end the set on an upswing than the absolute bop “Fireworks”, an examination of aspirational anxiety but somehow at the same time a summer day cruiser. It was a wonderfully ambitious and intimate set with incredible energy and heart.

Thanks to Timbre Concerts for having us out

Joseph Setlist

Love Is Flowing
Nervous System
White Flag
Don’t Protect Me
Good Luck, Kid
SOS (Overboard)
Slow Dance
Tell Me About You
Lost in the Light (Bahamas cover)
Side Effects
Here Comes Goodbye (Rascall Flatts cover)
Waves Crash
Without You

The Sun
Green Eyes

Photos © Julia Verea

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