Friday, November 9, 2007

joanna newsom @ walt disney concert hall

I'm secure enough to admit I have a Seinfeld-style girl crush on Joanna Newsom. I'm also a big enough wimp to admit Ys opener "Emily" makes me cry like a baby...every time. Much to the amusement of my mother, who funded this outing as the ultimate mother daughter event, this show was no exception1.

Joanna Newsom at the Walt Disney Concert Hall is the proof that sometimes talent really does rise to the top. Only a year and a half ago, I saw her at The Echo, in a show that included a twenty-minute tuning session (much to Joanna's mortification) and a ten minute, mid-set pause where the sound tech frantically searched for a way to drown out the frequency that was pumping, not lovely live harp music, but Mexican rock through the venue speakers. You've come a long way, baby.

To see Ys preformed live in its entirety is poetry in action. From its gestation period, as played solo at the aforementioned Echo show, to the condensed band version, to Friday’s 29-piece orchestral version, two things are abundantly clear: Joanna is a freaking genius story-teller, and, when creating what's essentially a five movement symphony, Van Dyke Parks is the best wingman in town. Joanna's not just out to play pretty music, she's exploring birth, life, death, and everything in between. The fact that she's been so successful in this exploration at the age of twenty-five is something I will never cease to marvel at and resent.

After taking us through the gut-wrenching, hour-long journey of Ys, Joanna returned to the stage in a short red party dress, neatly symbolizing a shift in mood. Likewise, the music was lighter as she played the linguistically-playful Milk-Eyed Mender. With a voice smoothed by almost three-years of constant touring, the material took on a considerably more sophisticated sheen. Peppered with die hard fans, the audience burst into applause at the beginning of every song as Joanna introduced newly rearranged versions of old favorites "Bridges and Balloons," "Peach Plum Pear," and a country-twinged version of "Inflammatory Writ."

The evening's encore ended with Sadie2 and an, as-of-yet untitled piece. Similar to in length and subject to Ys, the mystery song also recalled some of Milk-Eyed Mender's light-hearted wordplay. Having conquered the worlds of child-like innocence and world-worn beauty, the song hinted at an intriguing marriage of the two, a place where Joanna's muse might take her next. Wherever that next place might be, it's Joanna's ability to turn any concert into an emotional landmark that guarantees that we'll always be there to meet her.

1. No it is not hip to be seen in public with your mother. Do it anyway! She misses you.
2. Thinking it was about her dead dog, Sadie, like Emily, made me cry like a baby...until a show at the El Rey last year when Joanna clarified it was a song "about loving and appreciating people while you still can." While I'd like to say I no longer cry at the thought this song... well that would be an outright lie.

mp3: "Bridges and Balloons (live)" by Joanna Newsom
mp3: "Peach Plum Pear (live)" by Joanna Newsom

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