And now, the requisite review of the concert.
We were going to go to the Guster concert last Friday, but one of the members of the band took ill at the last moment, so it ended up being cancelled. I was disappointed; I usually attend a concert a month to keep me sane, so I felt a little cheated at not being able to attend this one. I took a look at local concert listings to see if they had posted a reason for not coming, when I noticed that Joanna Newsom was coming to town only one week later.
Those of you not familiar with the music of Ms. Newsom are encouraged to view the video for "Sprout and the Bean," from her Milk-Eyed Mender LP. Those of you familiar with her will know that she's a bit...eccentric, to put it politely. (She has a publicity shot of her wearing a wolf skin on her head.) I was really excited for this concert - not only because of her music, which I adore, but to see what she was like in person. I expected some sort of bizarre antics from her.
None were forthcoming, and that was a really good thing, as it turns out.
To start, I need to provide you with a sense of the layout of the Depot. It's a converted railroad station; there's a stage in the front with tables and chairs scattered in front of it. Sitting down changes the whole dynamic of the concert. While previous concerts I've been to have been high-energy, this one was really calm and relaxed. Everyone sat down and listened politely to the opening act. (His name was Mark Fosson, and despite playing a fairly long set, he was pretty good.) What was interesting, though, was that despite the fact that most people were talking (albeit quietly) during the opening act, an almost reverential hush fell over the crowd when Joanna took the stage. I overheard two guys talking during her first song ("Bridges and Balloons"), and not ten seconds passed before two other guys yelled "shut the hell up!" at them. Nobody talks over Joanna Newsom.
What's interesting is that she wasn't an imposing stage presence at all. There was no reason at all these two guys should have been silencing rabblerousers. (In all honesty, there was no reason these guys should have been there at all, let alone the rabblerousers.) She's still a young woman, starry-eyed and genuinely pleased and surprised that people are paying money to see her play. She just looked cute on stage. She prefaced the show by telling us that this was the first time playing with a band. She then paused for a moment, adding, "Well, it's basically the first time I'm playing with a band." Who says "basically?" Who says that at age 25? Between that and her cuddling up against her harp, she was absolutely adorable. It was wonderful.
The music was tremendous. I love her CD, but I didn't realize one could rock that hard with a harp until I saw her play it live. "The Book of Right-On" had some serious energy live. Watching her hands fly across the strings was spectacular. I've only seen one other person play a harp, and it's a real treat to see if you haven't. (Petra plays a mean harp.) Her band was no less disappointing. They had a wide array of clever and unusual instruments. One man played a mandolin; another played the accordion, and occasionally the saw. Few things sound cooler than a saw. Gathering a band around her changed the sound of the music; it almost felt like I was sitting in a Renaissance festival. (The cover of her new album, Ys, certainly reflects that mood.)
After playing only eight songs, she and her band stood up and left. We clapped and cheered, hoping she'd come back and play more from her first record, but she didn't. I was surprised that she was done. Apparently the event staff were just as surprised - they probably thought she was playing an encore, too. Everyone stood up, unsure whether to stay or go. Even with a set of only eight songs, though, it was the best concert I've seen in a long time. Who would have thought it from a harpist with a bizarre, high-pitched voice?