Friday, March 19, 2010

Joanna Newsom @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (March 13, 2010)

Update [March 22/2010, 1:30 AM]: Post now up. Unfortunately, because of the no-cameras policy at the show, security wasn't allowing me to take any photos, but I snuck some photos during the encore anyway - nothing special, but at least I got the one below for posterity.

  Joanna Newsom:
  photo by Michael Ligon
Joanna Newsom at Phoenix: photo by Michael LigonSometimes you just got to believe the hype. I'd largely been unfamiliar with singer/songwriter Ms. Joanna Newsom who'd until this year had already released two albums on the strength of which she'd built a loyal following. With the release of her most recent full-length, in fact a triple album (although technically-speaking could have been released as a double album), entitled "Have One On Me", it was the stronger-than-ever word-of-mouth recommendations and critical accolades which convinced me that perhaps that I should give her a chance and buy a ticket to her show. But save for sampling a few of her studio recordings, I went into her show at the Phoenix Concert Theatre last Saturday night with relatively a clean slate. In short, she was quite the revelation.

I missed opener Kevin Barker entirely, arriving to discover a packed house. However, with Canadian Musicfest plans later than night, missing Mr. Barker's set wasn't necessarily the end of the world. Instead, I looked at the situation with optimism, being able to go into Ms. Newsom's set with a clean palette. With a band that featured a two-member string section, a trombonist, drummer/percussionsit, and a multi-instrumentatlist(mandolin, banjo, flute, guitar) and with Ms. Newsom on piano and harp, it was a set of beguiling, folky chamber pop. Starting off the set with a trio of songs at piano, the audience was as attentive as one could hope, Newsom's uniquely askewed vocals(though in my opinion still within the realm of accessibility) played off nicely with her jaunty piano arrangements. The attentiveness of the audience was quite apparent when Newsom switched from piano to harp for the set's fourth song "In California", and if not absolutley silent, there was virtually no chatter from the crowd whatsoever during the song and for most of the remainder of the set.

The set was not without it's technical difficulties, although in a sense, these actually worked out to the benefit of the audience experience. It could have not been planned better for a comedy setup than when Newsom mentioned to the audience that for their current tour they'd been playing more sophisticated venues and that it was nice to play a rock club in Toronto, although when drummer Neil Morgan commented about a leaky ceiling above him, Ms. Newsom quipped "ok, we're leaving". Later on Ms. Newsom felt compelled to tune her harp better, handing off banter duties to drummer Morgan who took the reigns quite confidently and humourously, answering questions from the audience who were only too happy to participate. Of course, when an audience member attempted to pose a question to her, she responsed humourously that Neil had the floor. Banter doesn't get any better than that.

A gaze at the setlist is somewhat misleading. In one sense it was a short main set in that it only lasted about an hour, but most sets of that length arent't usually comprised of only eight songs. Usually, songs longer than five or six minutes on length may try my patience, but Ms. Newsom's material was such that a gaze at my watch at the beginning of a song than gazing at my watch later on during the song and realizing eight minutes had past, seemingly in the blink of an eye, truly reflected the strength of her songs and her and her band's musicianship. In a rare event, one I don't think I've ever experience, when the main set ended, the stage lights came on, and the music through the PA started, but an enthusiastic crowd and their prolonged clapping lead the club to allow Ms. Newsom and the band to come out for an encore ("Baby Birch"). Now, that's special.

Reviews of the show over at The National Post, Exclaim, chartattack, The Globe and Mail and Chromewaves. Update: It's Not The Band I Hate, It's Their Fans has his review and photos from the show now up.

It was one of those shows you'd want to relive in your mind, but fortunately a few people filmed quite decent video footage at the show:

Video: Joanna Newsom - "In California" (live, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, March 13, 2010)
Video: Joanna Newsom - "Have One On Me" (live, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, March 13, 2010)
Video: Joanna Newsom - "No Provenance" (live, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, March 13, 2010)
Video: Joanna Newsom - "The Book Of Right On" (live, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, March 13, 2010)
Video: Joanna Newsom - "Baby Birch" (live, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, March 13, 2010)

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