Jan 26, 2008

Joanna Newsom @ Sydney Opera House

In my opinion, if after witnessing a live performance from Joanna Newsom, you do not fall immediately in love with her, then I question if you have a heart. A true heart, full of the possibility of magic and spellbinding charm. In a world full of loud beats, discordant noise and boorish behaviour, Joanna Newsom stands out like a beacon. A beacon of infinite grace and endless delightfulness. Friday night at the Sydney Opera House was a night to touch the sky and feel the magnetism floating through the night air. I was bewitched and fascinated by a young woman who creates her own special brand of music.

This show was divided into two parts. Part one was a presentation of her wonderful 2006 album "Ys", where she was backed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Having seen these songs last year in solo mode, it was quite an experience to see the strings and woodwinds take each song to another level. Of course "Emily" opened and it was quite sublime. The audience listened intently, hanging on each and every word, before bursting into wild applause at the song's end. This continued for an hour, as the album played out. I was bewitched by her unique voice, which continues to grow in stature, and her amazing imagery. Her lyrics are really quite complex and eternally moving. Personal favourites were "Sawdust and Diamonds" (solo) and the stunning "Only Skin", which was powerful and incredibly moving. As well as the magnificent orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer, she was joined by road band members Neal Morgan (drums, vocals) and Ryan Francesconi (tamboura, banjo). Their deft and subtle touches were an special added touch to each song. Morgan's drumming was especially a standout.

After a 30 minute interval, Joanna returned in a new dress. Oh, by the way, her first dress was a gorgeous flowing black number. Sans orchestra, but rejoined by Morgan and Francesconi, she proceeded to play a combination of older numbers and two brand new songs. All of which was deliriously good and received with rapturous applause. I was particularly happy to hear the crushingly tender "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie", whilst the two new songs were a delight upon first hearing. Both are untitled and unfinished. The first was an almost folky number, whilst the second was a soft and tender ballad. Bring on album number 3. Joanna talked quite a bit more in the second stanza, her child like innocence in full display as she uttered sweet and short stories that utterly charmed the audience. There is so much more to Joanna Newsom then just her charm and innocence however. She is a bold and daring songwriter, who extracts enormous sounds from her harp, whilst her voice is a unique and sublime instrument. But I believe the obvious awe she gains from the world is what makes her special. Much like Sufjan Stevens she inhabits a world where magic is not only witnessed, but is remarkably common.

I have some photos of the night at my Flickr.

Set List
Monkey & Bear
Sawdust & Diamonds*
Only Skin
-With Sydney Symphony Orchestra except *

Bridges And Balloons
The Book Of Right-On
Peach, Plum, Pear
(New Song)
Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie
(New Song)-solo

Inflammatory Writ


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