Photos and Words by David Brendan Hall
Joanna Newsom’s music isn’t the most accessible. Not everyone can vibe with the eccentric harp, and piano-based tunes laden with fairytale-esque lyrics, but her talent for spinning something superbly complex out of myriad seemingly simple elements is undeniable.
During her Sept. 7th performance at ACL Live, she exhibited that panache alongside a quartet of highly trained, multi-instrumental musicians who played precise arrangements, masterfully formed with odd bits and pieces woven into wondrous climaxes by Portland-based composer Ryan Francesconi.
Key cuts from her October 2015 fourth album Divers included “Anecdotes,” where Newsom showed off her deftness darting back and forth from harp to grand piano during the same song; “Waltz of the 101st Lightborne,” a jumpy piano tune with a surprisingly heavy percussive ending; and “Time, As a Symptom,” which ended with flourishes of twin violins paired with soaring interchanging background vocals, a stirring combination.
Yet Newsom’s performance was most moving when she was on her own. With just her harp and voice, she began her encore with a cover of Judy Collins’ “Albatross”.
“I’ve never played this before performing live. I keep messing it up during soundcheck”, she remarked, setting an expectant tone before beginning. But her gently flitting fingers never faltered, conjuring the reverent silence and calm of a perfectly fingerpicked traditional folk tune. Every word rang out clearly as she sweetly sang solemn lines like, “You must barter your life to know you are living”. So yeah, there was a ton of heavy introspection in the room, it was the furthest thing from a rousing dance party. But it certainly left the audience with much more cerebral substance to sift through than the typical concert experience.
Bridges and Balloons
Soft as Chalk
Waltz of the 101st Lightborne
Have One on Me
Peach, Plum, Pear
Leaving the City
Time, As a Symptom
Good Intentions Paving Co.
Albatross (Judy Collins cover)