February 4th 2008
I can't talk about how good it was- because my inflection is lost over the internet... I laughed, I (mostly) cried, I fell in love, and I enjoyed EVERY minute of it.
It is so rare to find music that actually MEANS something... and it is even more rare to find something that truly seems IMPORTANT to the world of music. Joanna Newsom has achieved both with such grace and dignified ease that it is unbelievable.
Here's what the NY Times had to say:
"The orchestra slips in almost surreptitiously in "Emily," the first song on Joanna Newsom's 2006 album, "Ys," just as it did at her concert with the Brooklyn Philharmonic on Thursday night. Pizzicato violins joined the plucked strings of Ms. Newsom's harp, as if they might blend in, but they didn't stay incognito long. Soon the 30-piece orchestra was doing what her harp cannot: sustaining chords and gliding between notes, creating a cushion of harmony, stirring up extra counterpoint, placing the songs in broader vistas.
The Indie Singer-Harpist Who Met the Orchestra (January 29, 2008) "Ys" (pronounced ees) was composed on a grand scale — five songs add up to nearly an hour of music — and it earns every minute with panoramas of love and war, nature and civilization, apocalypse and rapture. While the melodies have the concision of folk songs, the lyrics are cascades of storytelling, wordplay, free-floating imagery and fable. Ms. Newsom's perpetual-motion harp playing provides settings that encompass madrigals, Appalachian ballads and African griot songs, and her voice can sound piercing or intimate. In the second half of the concert, when she sang older and newer songs, Ms. Newsom could have been describing her work in "Colleen" — about a woman who may once have been a whale — with the line, "artifacts of some strange dream which afterwards you can't decipher." Ms. Newsom's two concerts with the Brooklyn Philharmonic (Thursday and Friday) were the final shows in a yearlong tour on which she has been performing the music with orchestras. (The arrangements on "Ys" are by Van Dyke Parks, who mingled the Americana of Ives and Gershwin with a cinematic gloss; they were revised for the stage by Ryan Francesconi of Ms. Newsom's Ys Street Band.) Seeing the music performed brought out its ravishing details. Roadwork has made the songs even more expansive, not just in duration — "Only Skin," the album's longest composition, was a minute longer onstage — but in emotionality. Passages that were free-flowing on "Ys" took on a subtle rhythmic pulse. Instrumental cameos became more vivid, the voices of the winds and waters that course through the songs. The orchestra carried the music toward hymn or Orientalia, folk dance or rhapsody. But nothing upstaged Ms. Newsom, who works nonstop: plucking complex arrangements on her harp, singing her copious lyrics, transmuting her voice from all-knowing to wide-eyed, witchy to devoted. Near the end of "Cosmia," the last song of "Ys," she sang, "I miss your precious heart" with a vehemence that was heartbreaking. The second part of the concert had stark songs from her first album, "The Milk-Eyed Mender," in enriched arrangements for her band: Mr. Francesconi on banjo or the bouzouki-like tamboura, Lila Sklar on violin and Neal Morgan on drums. It also introduced new ones that promise further structural experiments: an untitled piece that started out almost countryish but turned into a fantasia of melody after melody, and another that was a suspended-time elegy turning into a waltz in which "kindness prevails." To follow through on the ambitions of "Ys," Ms. Newsom is taking different tangents.
Here is Joanna Newsom's set list:
"Monkey & Bear"
"Sawdust & Diamonds"
"Bridges and Balloons"
"The Book of Right On"
"Peach, Plum and Pear"
"Untitled New Song 1" ("Barbara"?)
"Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie"
"Untitled New Song 2"
"Same Old Man"