Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Joanna Newsom @ Great American Music Hall 19 December 2006

joanna newsom

The first thing is that the audience was excellent: they were very attentive, they listened quietly and they didn’t call out song titles. The place was packed as well with a youngish crowd. I see that Joanna Newsom is playing in London with a full orchestra but for San Francisco there was just a small band performing the Van Dyke Parks bits. The band was OK, except when they tried to play loud and the sound became a mush and tempted me to out my earplugs in. This was a great concert.

What does it mean to play a harp? Apart from Alice Coltrane (not exactly a household name), who plays the harp? Isn’t, say, the piano, a more flexible instrument?

Reasons the harp is not a rock instrument:

  • Cannot pick it up and wave it around
  • Hard to smash
  • Fender do not make harps (yes, I checked)
  • There is no Harp Hero videogame
  • Teachers are not very rock (Joanna thanked her harp teacher who had driven a long way to see the concert).

Reasons Joanna Newsom is a rocker:

  • Has Steve Albini as a producer engineer
  • Has Van Dyke Parks do her arrangements
  • Has a drummer (some of the time)
  • Plays rock venues

Just like on the CD (Ys) the very long songs held my attention all the way through. Live there is the additional amazement at seeing the physical effort involved in singing and playing the harp. If you are hesitating about buying Ys you should go ahead and buy it.

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