As the coldest months of winter take their hold on Minneapolis, concerts begin to hold a different sort of power over the city’s music fans. Far from the carefree sticky summer evenings’ confetti-filled festival fields, live music becomes a deliberate escape from the frigid weather and the moods that can too often accompany it. As people shuffled into the Fine Line on Monday night, wiping the snow off their boots and rubbing their stiff fingers together, the room transformed into a cozy community gathering for Cautious Clay’s show.
Joshua Karpeh, better known as Cautious Clay, is an R&B singer-songwriter, flutist, and producer. His career has followed a trajectory unique to the 2010s: a rapid rise to fame after his debut single “Cold War” was met with ample critical and popular success. 2018 marked the release of his debut album, Blood Type. The record features an eclectic mix of instrumentation and influences that makes for a captivating listen. He followed up this release with the 2019 EP Table of Context and a string of largely sold-out tour dates. This show marked his first-ever performance in Minnesota.
The warmth of Cautious Clay’s show extended into the set design. The stage was adorned with an array of table lamps with mismatched shades. Though the décor had a sense of comfortable familiarity, the lamps were utilized more like a stadium-ready LED display than a bedside reading light. Every emphatic guitar solo and passionate bass drum hit was coordinated with a striking change of color from the bulbs or rhythmic flash from the lights.
In this way, the purpose of the lamps reflected the ways in which Cautious Clay’s music feels completely effortless but is marked by the precision in which every track is executed. In the few years since he has been on the scene, Karpeh has ensured that every music video, album cover, and visual element of his music aligns with a unified vision. For an artist with such a clear sense of direction, it felt appropriate to have a performance equal parts refined and personable.
The singer was backed by a three-piece band consisting of the usual bass, drums, and guitar. Karpeh himself fluidly transitioned between his own ensemble of instruments: diving into a flute solo at the end of his newest single “Erase” and picking up the saxophone during several tracks like Blood Type’s “Stolen Moments.” Throughout the set, he switched between flute, saxophone, guitar, and vocals with ease, always employing the right instrument for the exact moment.
Karpeh’s lyrics explore myriad themes from failed communication to wistful nostalgia, within these topics he often returns to imagery of a utopian summer. In “Settler’s Paradise” he delivers the line, “palm trees, ice creams in paradise” and in “Crowned” he paints the picture of “pools side drinking.” For Karpeh, these paradises might mean a sort of escape from personal tribulations, but bouncing off the brick walls of the Fine Line in December they evoked a vivid, literal image of summertime as well. The dissonance between the lyricism throughout Cautious Clay’s set and the weather outside wasn’t lost on the performer. Between songs he joked, “We should call this the global warming tour. Every day it’s been either way too cold or warmer than it should be.”
During crowd favorite songs like “Cold War” and “Blood Type” the venue felt electric with impassioned singing and hundreds of fans swaying in unison. After over an hour of music the lights came up at the Fine Line. The sound of Cautious Clay’s husky voice was replaced by the sounds of jackets being zipped up as the cozy spell of the evening was lifted and the frigid reality of the Minneapolis winter returned.
Opening the evening was Californian artist Remi Wolf. The 23-year-old released her debut EP You’re a Dog! in October with a fully formed sound and expertly honed songwriting chops. Her infectious funk-tinged pop tunes set the mood for the evening, creating a seamless transition into Cautious Clay’s set.
Cautious Clay setlist
Juliet & Caesar
Something for Nothing