Saturday, November 13, 2010

Photos / Review : Joanna Newsom @ The Paramount Theater

Few can do what Joanna Newsom did when she took the stage at the historic Paramount Theater on Thursday night. First of all, when you think of Austin and it's ever-happening live music scene, the first thing that comes to mind certainly isn't a seated show with nearly 1,200 people dressed up, watching someone play the harp. But that's what happened at Thursday night's performance and it would be safe to speculate that the same scene has been happening all across the country on Newsom's current tour.
The venue was packed with forty, thirty, twenty, and even teen-somethings, most of whom came to the performance neatly dressed, all awaiting that beautiful voice they knew was coming. Newsom took the stage all by herself for the first song. She was all smiles and giggles as the occasional catcall was hurled her way and she launched into "The Book of Right-On". The song was immediately recognizable and garnered shouts and cheers from the first few plucks of her harp.
At the end of the song, her five piece band took the stage and backed her throughout the rest of the performance, breathing new life into her already anything but stagnant catalog. The set featured new arrangements of the material from her most recent album, Have One On Me.
Almost every song, same as the first, was loudly applauded by a select group of fans before the first words were ever sung. There was a simultaneous fervor and calm that is seldom found at a live performance. The audience was seemingly mesmerized by the performance, Newsom's calming, stirring, piercing voice and the band's arrangements which roused and soothed all at the same time.
The Paramount was the perfect venue for Newsom, who said she had been looking forward to playing in the theater for quite some time and had only seen it in photographs until the day of the performance. At one point, she finally noticed the harp-toting angle painted on the high ceiling and said, "Is that a harp on the ceiling? How about that. It looks like they got my rider." The audience laughed, as they tended to do after she said just about anything in between songs.
The laughter and banter with the crowd was one of the more remarkable aspects of the evening. It was so unexpected that you couldn't help but be drawn in to her effervescent charm. At one point, she asked if anyone had any questions and someone yelled out, "Tell us about your beautiful harp!", to which she responded by first telling the audience the harp was actually a rental but then quickly listed off the specific model number and features of the harp and ending by fully endorsing that particular line of harps. She did it all in a very self-aware, matter of fact sort of way that had everyone smiling.
The act came to a close with the typical announcement of "one more song" but everyone had to have known she would be back. She and the band received a standing ovation after "Peach, Plum, Pear" and returned to the stage to play the heart-droppingly gorgeous "Baby Birch". Someone shouted out "Seven more!" and she quickly quipped, "Did you bring your pyjamas?". The request would not be met, but the show closed with a solo performance of "Sawdust & Diamonds", another standing ovation and the lifting of the lights.

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Setlist
1. The Book of Right-On
2. Have One On Me
3. Easy
4. Cosmia
5. Soft As Chalk
6. In California
7. Inflammatory Writ
8. Go Long
9. Good Intentions Paving Company
10. Monkey & Bear
11. Peach, Plum, Pear
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12. Baby Birch
13. Sawdust & Diamonds

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