Joanna Newsom Live, Barbican Friday 19th January 2007

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Jan 25 2007, 12h21

I've attempted to write this entry without sounding overly fawning... but unfortunately I couldn't help myself, and I have failed spectacularly. Sick-bags at the ready...

It was incredible, and as always with Barbican gigs, a pretty special night. Something about that venue that always adds a little extra shine on top. I was quite surprised by its popularity. A full-house, and a big snaking queue for returns which I don't recall seeing at the Barbican before. I think the fact that she's featured as a critics' favourite last year, and in the higher reaches of a lot of 'Top Albums of 2006' lists accounts for that.

I won't deny I'm a big fan of Joanna Newsom (and besides, it would be fairly obvious from my profile), and so was always going to enjoy it whatever the weather, but it really was a memorable performance and the feedback I've read so far has been similarly positive. I saw her last year in a much more intimate setting at the ATP festival from just a couple of feet away, where she alone previewed several tracks from Ys. At that point, I had no indication of how amazing they would sound when played in a large venue with orchestra, and I'm glad to have now seen both sides.

She ran through the entirety of Ys for the first part. To hear Van Dyke Parks's arrangements played by the London Symphony Orchestra was awesome. And although it was a by-the-numbers rendition, to hear it played by a live and highly regarded orchestra made it all the more impressing. Some of my favourite moments on Ys are the interaction between Newsom, her harp and surrounding instruments. There are moments during Only Skin, from about halfway through where she spliced be a woman into, that I think has truly genius moments - near "Though we felt the spray of the waves / We decided to stay 'til the tide rose too far." in particular. Incidentally her beau, Bill Callahan/Smog, was there to provide his vocals for the closing moments of Only Skin - a nice extra bonus, even if he does join in for but a few verses or so in the whole 17-minutes.

That night [and I guess for all UK dates] she was accompanied by two of the players she's been working with on the current tour - strings (guitar, banjo, and something similar to a lute) and a percussionist/vocalist. I wasn't sure what to expect of these guys initially, but they turned out to be one of the high points. The percussionist in particular played with a great deal of space, adding very subtle touches - a tap of a tambourine or a cymbal brush - complementing the sound to perfection. Anything more and it would have been distracting. I have high regard for his playing, and how well he managed with backing vocals. Same for the guitarist, played respectfully to the record without being stilted by it and adding his own personality to it jumping from instrument to instrument. We were informed he was responsible for organising much of the live arrangement, so great respect for that. Nonetheless, the unaccompanied performance of Sawdust & Diamonds was breathtaking, and proved the strength of her solo performance.

Many artists might have ended the set at that point, but she dutifully returned centre-stage with the two accompanists. Wearing a different outfit, she informed us it was "not a Christina Aguilera costume-change". She's evidently a fairly nervous performer, but does have a good sense of humour and creates a good rapport with the crowd. We got a number of tracks from milk eyed mender - which, if I recall correctly, were Sadie, Bridges and Balloons, The Book of Right-On and Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie; being as you might expect, stunning. I was really hoping for En Gallop!, but no luck.

Never get so attached to a poem / That you forget truth that lacks lyricism

She also played a tradional Scottish folk song Ca' the Yowes to the Knowes, beautiful [My half-Scottish heart started pining for the highlands - perhaps I ought to go sometime], and one new song which I gather is currently titled "Shreddy". That, I feel, was the pinnacle of the night. She's again evolved stylistically if this is an idea of things to come. It sounds much more based in traditional than anything she's done before, especially playing as a three-piece. Features a fast and very rhythmic motif bookended by an sinister tone, with influence of or perhaps and music, which she lets out an superb percussive yelp to:

.

The other two players really shined here, and I had a few visions of The Pentangle, if only a double-bass was present (The harp, of course, serves that purpose). The given title is amusingly appropriate to the playing - though I'm sure fans of hair-metal would balk at the suggestion of 'shredding' on a harp. Really looking forward to the new stuff - hopefully there will be plenty more previewed at ATP in April.

One notable thing is the significant change in her voice over the last year has put a different twist on familiar tracks - they come over with much more measured grace, and feel somewhat more natural. However, the harshness and occasionally unpalatable quirkiness of her voice was what initially appealed to me, and it does feel like she's lost something in that. It is admittedly a better voice now, but there's always a danger that she might end up sounding too 'nice'.

I think it's going to be hard to top in the coming year of live music.

If you get the chance, go see her live, you won't be disappointed.

==============================

Ca' the Yowes to the Knowes (The First Unitarian Church Sanctuary - Philadelphia, PA)

Comentários

  • brynismyname

    She played Book of the Right On, not This Side of the Blue.

    Jan 25 2007, 17h48
  • beardscratchers

    Yes, you are quite right. Thanks.

    Jan 25 2007, 18h57
  • y2penni

    Hey, that was an awesome review. And it makes me siiigh ever so more the fact i couldn't go... I'd love to hear a full version of 'Shreddy'. Good stuff!

    Jan 26 2007, 13h21
  • beardscratchers

    Thankyou. I too would love to hear the new track again in full. I'm sure there'll be a recording knocking about soon, if not already! Be great to know if anyone got a direct or decent audience recording of the night - might have to do some searching.

    Jan 26 2007, 14h04
  • khoff

    To hear Van Dyke Parks's arrangements played by the London Symphony Orchestra was awesome. Ohh, I am so jealous of you. And you got Bill Callahan, too! But actually, I saw her in New York with the 'full band' she's been touring, and I love the accompaniment they've transposed from the orchestra. Monkey & Bear takes on a whole new light, and at the climax of Only Skin the bass drum adds a gravity which is even more beautifully chilling. Of course, now I want to hear a recording with BOTH the orchestra and her band. Thanks for posting these YouTube clips, too! Am about to watch Shreddy...

    Jan 30 2007, 1h38
  • vaarloek

    reading this made me even more excited about the concert she's having here in oslo on april 21. aaaah! i bought milk-eyed mender jsut because it sounded like something i would like in all the reviews and articles i read about her and the album, and i fell in love instantly. and then she goes and makes an album like ys, and blows me away. it's stunning. stunning stunning stunning! sounded like a great concert :) i can't wait!

    Fev 16 2007, 0h37
  • beardscratchers

    [quote=khoff]But actually, I saw her in New York with the 'full band' she's been touring, and I love the accompaniment they've transposed from the orchestra. Monkey & Bear takes on a whole new light, and at the climax of Only Skin the bass drum adds a gravity which is even more beautifully chilling.[/quote] Definitely. I recently watched the full video of the Philadelphia gig (from which the [b]Ca' the Yowes to the Knowes[/b] video above came from) and I can appreciate this. While I know it's not quite the same seeing it performed in person, I do agree that Monkey & Bear in particular works really well without the orchestration - the sparse instrumentation really helps to accentuate the story running throughout. I think lyrically it's probably the most interesting and inventive tracks on Ys, even if I don't feel quite the same way about it melodically. I also feel the performances without orchestration actually help to appreciate Ys better. The orchestra often overpowers the other instruments in the mix, and I think it's not until you hear them in isolation that you can appreciate their subtlety on the record. [quote]reading this made me even more excited about the concert she's having here in oslo on april 21. aaaah! i bought milk-eyed mender jsut because it sounded like something i would like in all the reviews and articles i read about her and the album, and i fell in love instantly.[/quote] Excellent, I hope you enjoy it. It's impressive how much immediate impact her music makes, both negative and positive - I don't think she's an artist that grows on people. She'll be playing ATP over here in England a week later, so I'm likewise excited about the prospect of it.

    Fev 16 2007, 14h28
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