Simon Joyner played Middle East Upstairs – 8/28
Joyner may not be a household name, but he could be your favorite songwriter’s favorite songwriter. Prolifically active on various indie labels since the early 90s, he’s garnered admiration from the likes of Conor Oberst, Beck and British tastemaker John Peel. The influence of his dark, lyrically dense country-folk in his native Omaha shines through the output of Oberst and other Saddle Creek Records acts past and present, and his songs sit comfortably alongside the work of Bill Callahan, Will Oldham or Jason Molina. But Joyner seems content to remain under the radar, releasing music in low-key fashion, rarely touring and remaining a hidden gem of sorts.
It felt like a rare treat, then, to have him in Cambridge Monday night sharing a bill with another quietly influential act of Boston’s own in Damon & Naomi. In the late 1980s, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang formed two-thirds of Galaxie 500, the cult favorite slow-motion dream-pop act whose sound resonated through countless downer bands of the next two decades. And people thought they were too quiet then, Krukowski jokingly recalled of Galaxie’s first appearances on that same Middle East stage circa 1987. Indeed, the duo’s current sound is even more hushed, comprised only of keys, acoustic guitar and the pair’s delicate voices – but their set was captivating and haunting nonetheless.
Closing out the night, Joyner played a stirring set to a small but reverent audience. Songs that were quite old slotted next to ones that were brand new proved that Joyner’s pen has lost none of its sharpness over the years, and an electric band backing his acoustic guitar gave the arrangements just the right amount of punch.
Guitarist/bassist/vocalist David Nance, whose band served as Joyner’s accompaniment, also played a rather raucous opening set replete with bursts of guitar freakout reminiscent of Ira Kaplan’s feedback-soaked jams.
See photos from all three sets below.