Review: ‘Joanna Newsom’

From the menacing strains of concert-opener "Emily," to the kaleidoscopic patches of Americana found within "Monkey & Bear," up through the dizzying finale, "Cosmia," Newsom commanded the audience's unflinching attention.

The first portion of harpist Joanna Newsom’s set was dedicated to a complete reading of 2006’s “Ys,” the masterful arrangements by Van Dyke Parks given a lush treatment by a 28-piece orchestra lead by Sean O’Loughlin. From the menacing strains of concert-opener “Emily,” to the kaleidoscopic patches of Americana found within “Monkey & Bear,” up through the dizzying finale, “Cosmia,” Newsom commanded the audience’s unflinching attention. “Ys” and its performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall is one of those events or happenings in a generation that simply breaks free from the strictures of time and, with near-immediate precision, injects the arts with a vital new mode of thought and expression.

As her tiny arms pulsated and plucked a massive wood-carved harp, her once rough-hewn voice warmly surrounded each complex lyrical turn of phrase. She contorted her face and quivered, rattling her body as if to shake forth all of the songs’ allegorical complexity, creating an almost transcendent form of communication with the audience. With songs as densely worded and musically demanding as the ones found on “Ys” (the compositions average roughly 11 minutes in length), the concert hall setting provided an ideal environment from which to individually digest the music’s labyrinthine construction.

In the coming years, 15-minute tone poems will probably not become the era-defining trend in pop music, but “Ys,” with its depth and musical splendor, will doubtlessly be marveled at well into the future.

An intermission followed the conclusion of “Ys” and the performance’s second segment consisted of brilliant reinterpretations of older material as well as a solo rendition of one untitled new song. A trio of additional musicians, lovingly referred to as the Ys Street Band, supported Newsom for both sets and added carefully chosen musical footnotes to each composition — most exquisitely on songs from her debut “The Milk-Eyed Mender.”

Joanna Newsom

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles; 2,265 capacity; $55 top


Presented by Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. and KCRW. Reviewed Nov. 9, 2007.


Band: Joanna Newsom, Ryan Francesconi, Neal Morgan, Lila Sklar, plus orchestra, conductor, Sean O'Loughlin.
Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0


    Leave a Reply

    No Comments

    Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s

    More Music News from Variety