I have discovered something about Joanna Newsom that will startle only a few of you. The rest of you have probably had this tingling sensation in the back of your head for quite some time now. It’s a fleeting notion- an idea that meandered and never fully formed... but was always a vague observation perched at the tip of your tongue ready to jump off. I had the same tickle in my mind. It wasn’t until last night at the magnificent Carnegie Hall, with her voice amplified within the ornate walls of that enchanting beloved edifice that I gasped and said “Aha!”. You see...
Joanna Newsom is not human.
What enchanting creature she is is still uncertain, however. One minute, she is playful and silly like an innocent sprite, then in the next moment she is mournful and serious as death itself, the next minute she is shrieking like a forlorn banshee, and then further still she will sigh whimsically and glow with all the love and peace in this world like an angel. I am not alone in this sentiment. We, (Joanna's devotees) know that she is extraordinary and otherworldly. In fact, someone shouted out during one of her harp tunings, "What does it feel like to be a GODDESS?". She seemed embarrassed though flattered and avoided answering all together by replying with something along the lines of, "I'm not a Goddess. Let's ask Dolly Parton."
Joanna Newsom and the band of musicians surrounding her toyed with my emotions all night long. It'd be vexing if it wasn't such a pleasure. Each pluck at her harp string seemed connected to the chords of my heart. It was like I had become an emotional marionette, and she was the puppetmaster. The sound of their music reverberating in Carnegie Hall was positively succulent. It was like my brain bit into a perfectly ripened nectarine on a warm summer day, the juices of the composition dripping down into the back of my throat- blissfully choking me up with its sheer deliciousness. The music was the nectar of the Gods, finely decanted in the sacred vessel that is Carnegie Hall.
I was weeping, being lulled into a pleasant dream like trance, smiling, dancing in my seat, or being whisked away as if by magic. My hand stayed nestled upon my heart and throat for most of the show because I needed someone to hold me. There was very little banter between songs save the moments when Joanna was tuning. Then and only then did I catch a glimpse of the pleasant human disguises of the players on stage. Their friendship, adoration, and respect for each other was evident, as well as some playfulness. Joanna even managed to embarrass her drummer into telling a goofy little joke: "How did the scarecrow win the Nobel Prize?" Then a shot gun shout from a random audience member, "He was out-standing in his field". (HAHA)
There were many spectacular moments for me that enchanted evening. There are a few in particular that I will carry with me forever. In example, there was a literal moment of insanity I experienced during the climax of "Have One on Me"- where I became convinced the music was playing NOT from the stage and being projected onto me, but was coming up though a place inside my ribcage that carried up like breath into my brain, and then was pouring OUT of me at maximum volume for the rest of the world to enjoy. I wish I was kidding and being dramatic, but it literally felt like the music was playing inside of my head like a monumental dream, and not playing to me from somewhere else!
Then there was another moment, when the swooping epic billows of love and loss in "Cosmia" hit me right between the eyes and heart simultaneously. With the bang of the drum, the strum of the banjo, and the intermittent pluck of the mouth harp- it sounded like old time America & the realm of faery commingled in harmonious sound and space for a few moments. The wails of the lines "And I miss your precious heart" when sounded over the the violins emphasized the pain and bliss that comes with care and worry. I had to close my eyes to keep myself steadied.
Next there was the passion and joy of the trombone players solo in "Good Intentions Paved in Company". Where I witnessed a steady excited crescendo of frenzied trombone playing. He escalated from a still seated music man, to a dancing yet still seated man, to a red faced passionate player, to a standing red faced wailing trombone player performing an epic soliloquy of sound. Everyone in the audience had a purely ecstatic reaction to the mans enthusiasm, and raw unabashed talent. I will never look at the trombone the same again.
As a devotee of Joanna Newsom, I must say that there was no better way to pay tribute and celebrate her otherworldliness than by seeing her at Carnegie Hall. It honored her, and she graced its presence. To quote Joanna herself, "You forget WHY Carnegie Hall is famous, you think of it like the Whitehouse, that it's just a building... until you play there... [with its acoustics] it's literally the best sounding room in the world."
|A Toadstool Ring, or Carnegie Hall Ceiling?|
Here's the Setlist:
Bridges and Balloons.
Have One on Me.
Good Intentions Paved in Company.
Peach Plum Pear.