Joanna Newsom‘s visits here are almost annual affairs – every year she looks more radiant and every year she continues to surprise me. Last night at the Opera House was no different.
Newsom was backed by her ever-trustworthy wingmen: Neal Morgan (on drums) and Ryan Francesconi (composer/conductor on plucked strings and the occasional recorder), as well as a quartet of horns and strings who together sounded incredibly rich. Given the news she is just about to release her new album, Have One On Me, I had an idea last night’s set would comprise of a whole new index of songs foreign to me and it did. The new material from Newsom is exciting – these songs pulsate with a very sturdy beat with equally stout arrangements, making for a dramatic, bold and unexpected listen. They seem to tread into an infinity of genres but let’s leave this for the album review.
“Bridges and Balloons” was as subtle and delicate live as it is on record – her fingers float effortlessly across the harp and even the piano, where we see Newsom based for three songs including “Inflammatory Writ”. About midway, Ys’ opener “Emily” basks in a compact rendition of Van Dyke Park’s original arrangement and so did “Peach, Plum, Pear” further towards the close of the set as she was about to start, a little surprise for planned by none other than Francesconi who arranged a short but joyous happy birthday in both major and minor keys – it was of course Joanna’s birthday. With that, the smell of cake seduced Newsom after a one-song encore of “Colleen”.