To the humble audience she asked if there were any Johns in the crowd [as I write this, I realize how this could be misinterpreted], scanning the room from left to right. Just as it seemed like a lost cause, in the far right corner was a quiet man raising his hand somewhat cautiously. That was I, or rather he was me. Not one to seek attention, I surrendered myself to whatever the immediate future held without a fight. The next song of Arc Iris’ set would be dedicated to me, tearing down my wall between myself as an observer and the performance. The members of Arc Iris sang the word “Johnny” with eyes directed at me. There were other words about this Johnny character and his love life but I soon lost all recollection when frontwoman Jocie Adams called me to the stage. Reluctantly, I obliged. With little room on stage, she warned me not to knock over the old acoustic guitar, inches away. With any sense of comfort across the room in my next beer, I received a brief serenade. It’s without needing to be said that my personal experience of Arc Iris’ performance at the Skylight on Sunday night was unlike that of others in the room, but it’s without a doubt I was just one of many impressed by the Rhode Island quartet.
Arc Iris took the stage just minutes into the eclipse. The stage, crowded with keyboards, was accented by a shiny silver moon and a layer of leafy vines flowing across the monitors. As the supermoon began to departure into the shadows, the members of Arc Iris ascended to the stage. Blending art pop and folk with a hint of cabaret, Jocie Adams and her mates proved to be every bit as mystically charming as on record. Providing an additional energy to the songs of their self-titled 2014 debut, the live version of Arc Iris proved exceptionally dynamic. The charismatic Jocie Adams stood at the center in gold leotard showcasing an enchanted voice along the lines of a cross between Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom. Throughout the set, Adams was undoubtedly the main focus, but each of her bandmates proved to be a vital piece. Within his horseshoe of keyboards Zach Tenorio-Miller’s playful synths sparkled, Robin Ryczek’s emotive cello strums ranged from somber to lively and Ray Belli dropped creative jazz beats. Most impressive of all was the dazzling combination of Adams’ vocals with the backing vocals of Ryczek and Tenorio-Miller.
As the set came to a close, the band led us on a journey out of the venue and down the street to the plaza. With the smoke of a nearby controlled burn lingering in the air, Arc Iris performed acoustically at the bandstand under the darkness of the eclipsed moon. It was the cherry on top of an already remarkable night of music, and for the passersby it was an unexpected treat which they’ll likely not forget.
While not a new idea, taking the performance out of the traditional setting never ceases to get old. There’s a thrill to the unexpected, and the positive energy of such an intimate performance is undeniable. So, while my own experience last night was uniquely memorable, I was hardly the only one to leave the venue having been treated to something unexpectedly special.
And lastly, below is some excellent video footage of Arc Iris performing “Whiskey Man” at the Santa Fe Plaza caught by Bob Tomlinson: