Tier 3

music / / poetry / / philosophy / / -ology by Nick Courtright

Concert Review: Joanna Newsom

 

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At the regal Riverbend Centre on Saturday night, Joanna Newsom proved why she’s one of today’s most iconoclastic and oddly appealing musicians: not only did she mesh shockingly well with the ultra-classy Austin Symphony Orchestra, but she also managed to get in trouble for hauling a bottle of Maker’s Mark onto stage. And it’s in this almost-accidental appeal to both sides of the concert-going spectrum—as well as an almost embarrassing wealth of talent—that she has become a powerful force in sub-pop music.

Beginning by playing her acclaimed 2006 release Ys straight through, Newsom remained faithful to the studio recordings, and hit even the most difficult notes with ease. Certainly one of the most surprising developments of Newsom’s recent career is her burgeoning vocal confidence, as she no longer feels the need to render her voice childlike as a way of overcoming her insecurities regarding its uniqueness. Alternately impressive is that during these five lengthy songs—the shortest of which runs longer than seven minutes—the Peter Bay-led symphony ably and enthusiastically performed the Van Dyke Parks-arranged strings, making Austin proud by serving as a perfect match for Newsom’s songs.

After intermission, the harpist—dwarfed by her instrument—was left with only the Ys Street Band for assistance. Although the sound provided by these two capable musicians could not equal the intensity offered by orchestral accompaniment, the second half’s much-shorter pop songs from her first album were built for fan favorite-hood. Notable is that these older songs demonstrated just how far Newsom has come as an artist, as their texture, though rich and engaging, was simpler and less ambitious than her newer work, including the two post-Ys songs she played.

Ultimately, one of the most interesting aspects of this performance was that it provided an occasion for elder-elite intellectualites to hear a hipster-beloved indie-underground goddess—whom they probably would not have heard otherwise—as well as an occasion for knee sock-wearing girls and sensitive beard-growing boys to see the symphony—whom they probably would not have heard otherwise. And it is at this crossroads that Joanna Newsom has forged herself a niche as one of the most intriguing and appealing artists of the day, and someone whose potential seems practically limitless.

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