I hate reviewing shows more than a day after the gig has happened as I never remember the details that I would have liked to note down here (UPDATE: I did remember details). I do remember this: Joanna Newsom’s show at the Vogue Theatre Thursday night was yet another mesmerizing evening in the presence of a true songwriting genius.
The nearly two-hour show drew heavily from this year’s Have One On Me – a record I have differing opinions on every time I listen to it. Luckily, most of the songs I consider unequivocally great pieces of music ended up being performed by Joanna and her five-piece band (guitar/banjo/other, violins x2, trombone, and drums/percussion). It all started with Newsom on her own, however, with ’81. One of my favourite songs of the year, the tale of an alternative Garden of Eden set the show up perfectly as Joanna then spent the rest of the evening opening up new worlds, song after song.
The biggest change in Newsom’s performances since I first saw her at Sasquatch in 2005 is the control she now wields over her voice. Songs like Easy would have sounded a lot different in the past but now Newsom ducks and weaves her voice seamlessly to fill theatres like the Vogue with a totally unique and beautiful voice.
There are other changes in her show as well…in fact, every time I’ve seen Joanna Newsom the show has been entirely different (even if many of the songs were the same). Thursday, for instance, marked the the third time I’d seen Ys songs Cosmia and Monkey & Bear performed but I have yet to see them performed the same way. When I first heard them live in January 2007, Newsom was playing a set on her own, entirely on the harp; the arrangements were unadorned but still incredibly powerful. The next time I heard them was a year later in the Sydney Opera House complete with an orchestra as Van Dyke Parks’ complex arrangements were executed beautifully live on stage. And on Thursday they were different again as they were played with the backing band and yet they still felt incredibly “complete” if totally different from what I’d heard before.
That is too many words to say: Newsom’s tours are always different which makes seeing her on each tour a truly memorable experience.
The other older songs played on Thursday were Inflammatory Writ and Peach, Plum, Pear; both live staples but, again, they’ve undergone new arrangements with her current touring band. Inflammatory Writ, which was greeted with a huge cheer from a very attentive audience, particularly benefited from a full-band as it’s bouncy optimism contrasted well with some of the other more somber material from Have One On Me.
What really surprised me was that it wasn’t just the older songs that were instantly greeted with cheers from the crowd. Many of the new songs elicited excited responses from the crowd, including Soft As Chalk, one of several songs on the night which featured Newsom at the piano rather than the harp. Go Long and Good Intentions Paving Company were also greeted warmly with the latter being stretched out into a lengthy “jam” featuring some great work on the trombone from…the trombone player whose name I forget. Andy maybe? I think Kingfisher was about the only new song which didn’t seem to work for me. It’s a bit too long with not quite enough happening in it. I don’t mind it in the context of the album but live it kind of slowed things down too much in the middle of the set.
After Peach, Plum, Pear closed the show the band returned for Baby Birch, one of Have One On Me’s highlights. Man, I don’t think I realized how sad that song is. Nonetheless, it was a very, very fitting and powerful end to the show. The build to the crescendo was filled with tension and when it was finally released…catharsis! Fabulous end to another amazing Joanna Newsom show.
Have One On Me
Soft As Chalk
Good Intentions Paving Company
Monkey & Bear
Peach, Plum, Pear
Also, Joanna Newsom was hot. Literally. She claimed she was melting on stage as the Vogue clearly weren’t spending much money on a/c during Vancouver’s recent warm spell. A few photos from the gig here.
Added bonus of the evening was Fleet Foxes lead singer Robin Pecknold’s opening set. His voice was absolutely impeccable and was made for theatres where it can just fill every corner of the room. I’m pretty sure his set was almost entirely new material that, I assume, will be on the new Fleet Foxes record which must not be too far off. A few of the new songs, while definitely in the style of what we’ve heard before from Fleet Foxes, seemed more ambitious in scope with multiple parts and shifting keys. More than anything, Pecknold’s set was a nice reminder that Fleet Foxes are still out there.
Attempt at the setlist below…like I said, pretty sure those first seven songs were all new. If one was a cover I didn’t recognize it (I do know Pecknold is capable of spitting out many folk covers) so if you recognize any of the lyrics let me know.
Look Up, Look Down That Lonesome Road
“After all you said and done I feel the same”
“I left a penny at the shrine this morning”
Blue Spotted Tail
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
Fleet Foxes – Mykonos