Go on Spotify or Grooveshark and pull up a Joy Kills Sorrow album. Plug in some headphones, hit play, and close your eyes. The sound you’re hearing in your head is exactly what the band sounds like live. To call this neo-bluegrass band live show perfection is an understatement. In fact, it’s still hard to believe that the immaculate sounds this group of 20-somethings produced at the Cistern last night were not funneled through computers and speakers in some sort of epic con.
That could be due to the exquisite vocal talents of singer Emma Beaton, whose voice can go from tenderly spun sugar to viscous caramel in the course of one song. Beaton’s flawless vocals never failed the entire night, whether she was singing on one of the band’s more avant-garde numbers or a honky-tonk cover. Dressed in white, Beaton was a dead ringer for Mad Men’s Joan Halloway, that is if the television character was participating in the College of Charleston’s graduation ceremony. (CofC students wear all-white during the school’s commencement ceremony.) It was hard to take your eyes off of her, except maybe to look at Bridget Kearney whenever she walloped or tenderly bowed her double bass. Kearney was a jazz bass major at the New England Conservatory of Music, and you could hear that background in some of her playing. Meanwhile, banjo player Wesley Corbett harmonized with Kearney and Beaton as he finger-picked, and the stage was framed by Matthew Arcara and Jacob Jolliff, two stoic, bearded figures on guitar and mandolin, respectively.
The women took turns on the mics between songs, whether it was Beaton noting the Holy City’s heat and humidity or picking on the Caviar and Bananas worker who asked if they were sneaking beer into the show or telling a story about a songwriter friend who can wrap his whole mouth around a pint glass. The quips were a reminder that despite their individual talents, the members of this Generation Y band are still kids, and so did their refreshingly modern numbers. The music of Joy Kills Sorrow may be inspired by the past, but their lyrics belie their age. Songs about having sex too soon and other modern catastrophes of romance peaked with epic string solos, often from Jolliff, who never failed to attract a round of applause — and often a couple of whistles — whenever he took the spotlight.
Midway through the night, Joliff kicked off some quick picking as the band began to play “Such Great Heights” by quintessential electropop band the Postal Service. The cover may have been lost among some of the older members of the crowd, but the layered rendition, anchored by Corbett’s delicate picking, fit perfectly with the Spoleto SCENE members and some of the other youngsters in the yard. Iron and Wine’s more famous cover of “Such Great Heights” on the Garden State soundtrack has nothing on Joy Kills Sorrow’s version.
This was Joy Kills Sorrow first show in South Carolina, and while the warmth of a Lowcountry summer may have been a bit too much for the Canadian Beaton, we hope the band comes back. And often.