Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Newsom: Webster Hall Ny, NY

Well I just can't shut up about Ms. Newsom, can I?

Last night I stepped out with bestfriend Emily to the 9:30 Joanna Newsom Webster Hall show on Eleventh Street. Between the muscles at the door and the skinnies smoking on the street there was a little room for us to push through.

Inside proved to be a jamboree of dudes, whose huge beards were still wet with tears from hearing Newsom's new album, and their tiny little girlfriends, who all wore their teal screenprint t-shirt and horsing boots so that Joanna would notice them. Emily and I looked no different (me with a much less manly and much more patchy beard, she with a fashion sense that looked like it went through a meat grinder) and both secretly hoped that Joanna would peek at us from behind her giant musical contraption.

and giant it was. You really don't get the sense of how impressive this woman is until you see her tiny frame flickering back and forth across strings the size of my forearm. Nor do you get the sense of how delicate and sharp the tiny pinprick notes must be on her digits until you see her hands undulating across them.

and undulate they did, her digits. Buried beneath the orchestration of Ys there is a sheer brilliance of style and technique I've rarely seen at a show. In particular during "Only Skin" there are moments where, on the album, one can hear a shimmering playfulness at times and a booming resonation at others. As Emily pointed out to me, that shimmering playfulness is most likely an intricate weaving of two different time signatures. And the booming resonance was a great lean and pull of a bowstring.

She opened with "Bridges and Baloons", "book of right on", and a Scottish folk tune that I didn't catch the name of but was a perfect intro to her new music. Pastoral, lush, and a brief respite from lengthiness before the heavy Ys lumbered onto the scene.

She played her new album in its entirety with a backing band. The band was a bit dissapointing to me, they had arranged bits and pieces of Van Dyke Park's arrangements for the album but kind of plinked their way through it only to occasionally come strong and really support the girth of certain songs. The final moments of "Monkey and Bear" were backed by a rumbling bass drum, alien to the album but welcome to the song. The end of "Cosmia", her final song of the night, ended strong with an incredible four or five minute fermata of jamming (?). The backing band really flexed their muscles here and Newsom let them have their moment as she washed her hands across the repeated notes of the song.

But Newsom was the star of the show, and she delivered. The first thing I noted was the drastic maturation of her wind pipe. She swam across her old material's screechy memories with easy strokes of vocal depth. Newsom has learned how to tame those little rubber bands in her throat not to mention play cats cradle with them. Second was her initial nervousness. The first two songs she played were rushed and a little (more) warbly (than usual). I don't think anyone noticed it because they were all too busy crying or proposing to her. Regardless, her nervousness was endearing and shrugged off as soon as she began the new material and as soon as she realized that everyone there was on her side.

Finally, I began to see the sheer breadth of talent and style she breathed with these opuses. The songs weave and waltz and frolick at the speed of her hands, which is an entertaining thing to watch to someone who is used to watching tearing and crunching and fucking with a pick between thumb and forefinger. So the length of her songs really shoot you in the face, thwip, like an arrow. These songs are twelve and sixteen minutes long, I didn't even think about that when I saw Slint or Explosion in the Sky. Not to say the songs were boring, but, like I say in my Ys review, the songs paralyze. They Paralyze time. Newsom's power and talent really shine when she wills them into nine minute operas and cantatas, and she unfolds them before you with nimble fingers and a really, really, really fucking pretty face.

conclusion: The threads of time and fashion are no match for a poet with a harp.

(image: blatantly stolen from Alice)


Alex said...

The idea of undulating digits kinda grosses me out for some reason. Not because of the music, but because I only think of those scenes in X Files, I think it was X Files?, where people get infected by something wormy and undulating under their flesh. Sweaty palms are bad enough; rigid, "undulating" ones are like fucking abject or something.

Cap'n Guthrie said...

Dont you talk about my lady like that, I'll undulate my digit in your mouth.