It’s been years since I last saw Joanna Newsom. The first time I got to see her, thanks to a friend who couldn’t go himself, was magical. Partly because it was in the historical and magnificent Royal Albert Hall, but mostly because her concept album (of sorts) Ys had just been released and she played all of it (I still get goose bumps when I listen to ‘Only Skin’, ‘’Emily’ and ‘Sawdust and Diamonds’). Needless to say my expectations for this gig where exceptionally high.
Joanna Newsom, masterfully switching between the harp and piano, was joined on stage by a band of five that included a drummer (co-arranger of her latest album), two violinists and a multi-instrumentalist playing everything from guitar, to flute to recorder. The drummer in particular was very charismatic and great at using every available bit of his drum kit to create great accompanying percussion throughout the set. What really comes across when you see Joanna Newsom, though, and something which I think doesn’t get mentioned enough, is the fact that she is extremely likeable, humble and just plain nice.
Luckily I spent the last few weeks obsessively listening to her latest record, Have One On Me, as nearly her entire set came from the hugely ambitious, yet accessible, triple album. She started the show herself, playing the sad, yet sanguine ’81, before being joined by her band and playing ‘Have One On Me’, the end of which provides a glimpse of the full band crescendo that climaxes on her later song, ‘Good Intentions Paving Co’. Other standout songs included ‘In California’, ‘Easy’, and the gorgeous and much revered ‘’Peach, Plum, Pear’ from her first album The Milk-Eyed Mender.
In all honesty I would have loved to hear at least one song from Ys, but I can understand that it didn’t quite fit in with the mood. Last night’s gig was more up-tempo, accessible and happy than the London show I attended a few years ago. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Her songs still harbour that multi-layered depth that makes her so special in my opinion, and whilst I know that her voice has that marmite effect on people – you either love it or hate it – I find it utterly mesmerising and beautiful.
All in all was a great gig. Colston Hall, in my opinion, more than justifies its billing as Bristol’s foremost musical forum: the seating arrangment works a treat (we were in the very last row and still had a good view), the acoustics were amazing and the general layout is majestic in its (almost paradoxical) simplicity and grandeur.