Seeing Joanna Newsom perform live brings a nice sense of formality and classic performance grace to a group of kids most likely used to standing around sweatily and being shoved about. Beards and plaid abounded at the excitedly abuzz Town Hall, where the innate classiness of the venue drove in that unique combination of indie/quirky artist and rich, concert-hall show. Her last trip to town — to perform Y’s in its entirety with the Brooklyn Philharmonic at BAM — was similarly classy, and while this setting and feel is indeed appropriate for the music she brings, the crowd’s adulation and formal applause had her sheepish and grinning. As she explained, she never quite got over her nervousness this evening, because “New York is so cool.” The drunken, groping groupies sitting in front of me certainly thought she was cool, bringing elements of your more typical rock concert to this recital setting, and displaying the most amazing, ear-splitting whistles I have ever heard.
Through mostly numbers off the just-released (and fantastic) Have One On Me, Newsom played on harp and piano with accompaniment from a small group of musicians — Ryan Francesconi who’s responsible for the album’s arrangements, and a trombone player, drummer, and two violinist/vocalists. It felt like a special privilege to see the Francesconi/Newsom collaboration in action as he skipped between instruments (tambura, guitar, banjo, recorder, etc.) in order to do justice to his carefully crafted parts. Newsom was enchanting when behind either the dwarfing harp, or the Steinway, beaming and shaking her head to the song’s rhythms in some adorable state of concentration. Her vocal performance was highly notable in that she’s clearly gone through a journey with that voice of hers, training and harnessing it to produce her chosen notes with professional mastery rather than strain. Early recordings charm with their lack of any attempt to hide challenges and hiccups, instead going brazenly through the notes she and the songs wanted to hit; Have One On Me is not without her extreme quirk, but the girl’s much, much more in control of her voice now.
Besides the new songs, Newsom rewarded the audience with a few tracks off Milk-Eyed Mender, and one wonderful morsel from Ys, “Emily.” It was re-arranged in order to allow performance by the set of musicians available at the show, but did not come off as any less large. Francesconi delivered, for example, the fatherly banjo parts, while the trombone player pulled out a mouth harp just for those few cricket notes. While there was a bit of a lean towards the slow-building, quieter parts from Have One On Me, a definite highlight was the titular track, where the vocal play between Newsom and the two backup singers at the end of the song was, to say the least, amazing. Though I do wish she had played a longer set, it was still a wonderful show in a perfectly appropriate setting, and the crowd (that included Lou Reed, I might add) eagerly gulped-up every single note. I think I still have goosebumps.
Have One On Me
Soft As Chalk
The Book Of right On
Peach, Plum, Pear
(please excuse the poor quality of these pictures)