Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Joanna Newsom at the Royal Albert Hall

Words cannot describe how it must feel for a musician to perform at the Royal Albert Hall. It is surely the pinnacle of any artist’s career however, of the lucky handful contemporary artists that do get to enjoy the grand old hall’s buzz, few show the overwhelmed gratitude and gratefulness that California ’s anti-folk heroine, Joanna Newsom exuded on Friday.

A special night was afoot and despite the best efforts of irrelevant 60s crusty folker Roy Harper to dampen proceedings by running through his self-indulgent, mind-numbing 1969 album “Stormcock” (which was closer to “Cock Storm” if truth be told).

Newsom herself seems to have chosen Harper specifically and refers to seeing him live ad-nauseum as being on e of the greatest moments of her life. Little does she know that a crowd of nearly 8000 people are thinking the same thing about seeing her.

On this night, Joanna Newsom is transcendent, her elfin figure perched daintily behind her harp as she regales us with allegorical tales riddled with simple lyricism and timely grace. In an industry so dominated by perfection, it is the little (and they are little) imperfections in Newsom’s show which makes her so endearing.

The performance tonight was spell-binding: Following the exemplary “Ys”, any live performance is going to be difficult and although her full orchestra shows earlier in the year were celebrated, it is the low-key (re)arrangement of this evening’s show which I find so delicate. Turning a Van Dyke Parks opus into a stripped down composition is near impossible, but Joanna and band do extremely well. Yet it is “Inflammatory Writ” from excellent debut “The Milk Eyed Mender” which strays furthest from the beaten path of the original converting a piano driven ditty into a harp and banjo propelled folk classic.

The populists in the audience will have left the show slightly irked by the lack of “Sadie” and that one from the advert “This Side of The Blue”. However, the rest of us go home thinking we’ve seen something truly special. Words cannot fairly put justice to this show. So in my best efforts, let me just comment that following this, all other music seems somewhat futile. On 28th September 2007, live music achieved perfection.

In case your appetite needs further whetting:

Joanna Newsom - Inflammatory Writ

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