Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
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JOANNA Newsom live is a force to be reckoned with.
Compositions – it seems disrespectful to call works that cover as much ground as the sprawling, 12-minute Emily “songs”, for some reason – which seem complex and otherworldly on record are transformed in their performance, the sheer physicality of the Californian’s relationship with her harp a joy to watch. Backed by a four-piece band including her brother Pete, who come packing enough instruments to fill out an orchestra, Newsom’s elegant fairytales of whimsy and woe are intense and engrossing.
Bridges and Balloons, from Newsom’s 2004 debut The Milk-Eyed Mender, is an inspired choice of opener: perhaps the simplest song in her repertoire, the elongated vocals and touch, just a touch, of bass and drums that characterise the Concert Hall version reveal depths that even a long-term listener would never have expected. This transformation, and the way in which the songwriter effortlessly swaps between harp and piano – sometimes even on the same song – are testament to Newsom’s skill as a composer.
The central theme is that everything is bigger in person: Leaving the City even more sombre and churchlike, particularly when Newsom and her backing singers and band members harmonise together; the bridge on Cosmia more frenetic and thrilling; Good Intentions Paving Company positively bursting with joy. And all the while you can’t take your eyes off those fingers, weaving intricate melodies to life on the harp strings and pulling together the band's sonic threads.
Newsom’s voice too has never been on finer form; whether briskly acknowledging the lawlessness of love on Soft as Chalk or, on Time, As a Symptom, thrilling in the tiny pleasures of being alive.