I'm one of those people who has to consume Joanna Newsom's albums in small doses, like Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, because they're so strong and tangy that I quickly get overwhelmed by the taste. With that in mind, I wasn't sure whether to go to her concert. Thank G. I did. It was awesome--even better than Leslie and the Lys.
There's nothing about Joanna that doesn't get ten times better live. She tours with two singing violinists, a trombonist, a drummer, and a guy who plays the guitar and recorder. She and her music giggle and sparkle in a way they just don't do in a studio.
She's also a lot hotter than she looks in pictures:
I mean, she's not hideola there, but something about her is transfixing when you're in the same room. Maybe I felt that way because my whole idea of what a beautiful woman should look like comes from a sixth-grade Madeleine L'Engle binge. There's a passage in A Swiftly Tilting Planet (or is it Many Waters?) when L'Engle talks about how her nerdy girl hero, Meg Murry, has grown up and ditched her glasses for contacts and grown a long mane of chestnut hair. Joanna Newsom has that hair. She's also mind-bogglingly talented.
She's a very precise musician: last night, she was so freaked out that one of the F strings on her harp was going flat that she paused the concert several times to tune it. After a rendition of "Inflammatory Writ" that transformed the song from simple Newsom caterwaul to a melancholy Appalachian waltz--here's an approximation of the sound, although the real thing was so much better that it brought tears to my eyes--she threw up her hands and said "I messed up my favorite note!"
Nobody could tell. Her perfectionism was just a charming part of her monologue last night, but I think it accounts for why her albums aren't as lush as her live performance. She seems like the sort of artist in danger of tinkering the vitality out of things.
What a concert! It was a lot better than the last thing I saw at Sixth and I Synagogue: a big fat guy in a blue suit singing songs about Grover Cleveland's erotic relationship with his goddaughter.