Joanna Newsom played some new material at Melbourne’s Forum Theatre last Wednesday, Faster Louder was in attendance and had this to say: (Download the bootleg at the bottom, below the review. Plenty of songs from upcoming triple LP Have One on Me were played.)
There’s no doubt that Joanna Newsom is somewhat of acquired taste. Her unique voice holds a chiLd-like beauty to some whilst jarring to others. For many, she sits at the pinnacle of the indie-folk world; 2006’s Y’s in particular regarded as one of the genre’s finest of the past decade. Yet, for all the skinny black-jeans and thick-rimmed glasses that were on show, Newsom’s set leant far more on her classical groundings. Before an adoring audience, she and her band treated the Forum to a delicate and carefully crafted evening’s entertainment.
In front of a crowd who seemed more interested in talking than in his music, Ned Collette was extremely comfortable. Too much so. A regular support act for bigger drawcards, he appeared quite content to meander through his catalogue and let it wash over whoever was listening. Dedicating All The Signs to the Tote and the Arthouse did garner some appreciation yet, other than a searching instrumental at the close of his set with backing band Wild Orca, there was no earnestness and little to be inspired about.
Joanna Newsom strode out to her harp, positively beaming at her audience. “Hello everyone. I’m going to be playing a lot of new songs tonight. I hope that’s okay.” The rapturous applause that met that statement suggested it would be. The first of these was a gentle, playful love song; one that could have comfortably taken its place on 2004’s Milk-Eyed Mender.
Newsom’s six-piece band was then welcomed to the stage, bringing with them a trumpet, trombone, drums, two violins, a guitar and a mandolin. Bridges and Balloons followed, receiving very subtle assistance from Neil Morgan on drums and occasional strumming from guitarist Ryan Francesconi. Having thanked Francesconi for arranging her latest material to suit a live setting, Newsom pushed through two more new songs; the second possibly titled Ribbon Bows. It emphasised Newsom’s poetic tendencies and was set against warm, intermittent sounds from her string section.
“It’s going to be a bit loosey-goosey with the tuning,” Newsom told the crowd, fussing for a minute over her harp which, it should be said, completely dwarfed her on stage. She begun another new song, tentatively titled In California by the internet community, before stopping dead two minutes in. “Sorry, we need help. Someone fell.” Looking genuinely concerned, Newsom waited several minutes before a girl, who passed out, was carried from the congested front row. It was somewhat strange given the context, especially as the crowd had been, to this point, completely silent and exceptionally well mannered.
Starting once more from the top (at the audience’s behest), Newsom plucked her way through a slightly softer version of the song; with her drummer only imposing himself towards its conclusion.
Switching to piano gave a slightly darker overtone to yet another new and unnamed song, with heavier full-bodied accompaniment from the horn section. This, however, was off-set by the bouncing tempo of Inflammatory Writ which followed; aided by the backing vocals of both Morgan and Francesconi.
After thanking Ned Collette for supporting her, Newsom requested another minute or so to once again tune her harp. The particulars of her sound were clearly quite important. The opening notes to Emily were then greeted with a large cheer; Newsom’s voice rising and falling with more power than on-record. It marked a transition into older material, with The Book of Right On and Peach, Plum, Pear thrilling the Forum.
Closing with a solo encore performance of Esame, Newsom proved a couple of things. She is certainly capable of commanding a large audience on her own; the song’s gentle lyrics matched well against her soft harp. Yet, one felt the night may have suffered had she not been supported by a backing band, with many of her new songs driven by their classical arrangements.
Despite having not released anything for a few years, Joanna Newsom is still clearly held in the highest regard by so very many. The glimpses offered into her new and soon to be released album suggest a slightly fuller, bolder sound going forward. On her performance at the Forum, it seems evident that her new material will be every bit as revered as her past, much-loved work.
1. Jack Rabbits
2. Bridges and Balloons
3. Have One on Me
4. Ribbon Bows
5. In California
7. Inflammatory Writ
8. Soft as Chalk
11. No Provenance
12. The Book of Right-On
13. Peach, Plum, Pear