If there is one word that best describes Joanna Newsom's latest album, Have One On Me, it's "ambitious." Honestly, is there any other way to describe a triple album?
In a lot of ways that ambition makes the record a tough listen. That's not a knock on Newsom; musically there is no denying it is a good record. But when you take into consideration Newsom's odd vocals, the minimalism of many songs, and the fact that most tracks are over five minutes in length, it can be tough record to sit through from beginning to end.
It was because of these things I was a little concerned that Newsom's Orpheum Theatre show would be tough to get through. It wasn't long into her set at a packed theater Sunday night that I realized that wouldn't be the case.
For this tour, in support of Have One On Me, most of the songs off of the album have been re-arranged for a live setting and a five piece band (including two violinists and a trombonist) is accompanying Newsom on the road. The new arrangements give the tracks additional depth and the backing band also helps provide some nice harmonies. In a lot of ways the new arrangements felt very similar to how they originally appeared on the album, but seemed to be self-aware they existed in front of an audience.Most arrangements had stretches where Newsom was alone on piano or the harp, maybe with just a violin in the background.
There is something strangely hypnotic about watching Newsom play the harp. She alternated almost after each song between the harp and piano but it was the former that was the most fun to watch. Maybe it's because the harp is a foreign instrument to today's pop music or possibly it's just because that's what you expect and are hoping to see at a Joanna Newsom concert. Although she didn't interact with the audience very much, when she did Newsom came across as very funny and charismatic.
One of the more humorous moments of the night came at the mid-way point of her set when she had to take a few minutes to tune her harp. This led to an impromptu Q&A session with the audience where the crowd asked everything from what the bands favorite color was to where she got her dress. When asked if she had any piercings, Joanna Newsom jokingly replied, "I have 27."
Overall, Joanna Newsom's performance last night was anything but boring. In fact, it was a lot of fun. The Orpheum Theatre provided the perfect setting for this show and in the end both her music and her personality shined through at the end.
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Personal Bias: I was already a fan but when I heard Joanna Newsom's collaboration with The Roots on the song "Right On," it really made me want to see this show.
The Crowd: Exactly what you'd expect at a Joanna Newsom concert.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Is this the person who sang that 1234 song?" said a bro in the crowd who confused Feist for Joanna Newsom.
Random Notebook Dump: The ushers at Orpheum last night were on point about shutting anyone down who tried to use their cell phone. So I couldn't take any notes on my iPhone like I normally do. Time to get a pad and paper, I think.