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Joanna Newsom, London Eventim Apollo

London Eventim Apollo 09/11/15
The elfin American dazzles and wins hearts.

To see Joanna Newsom live is to experience a complex cornucopia of shifting sounds and sudden tempo changes that to the unconverted could seem bewilderingly elaborate.  However, judging by the hushed reverence that greets every song tonight, this is an audience of very intentional listeners.

Starting the final concert of her mini European tour with ‘Bridges & Balloons’ from her debut album  (also featured on the seminal psych/freak folk compilation Golden Apples Of The Sun from way back in 2004) Newsom appears confident and comfortable. The volume at the venue is low, which draws the listener’s ears ever closer to what’s going on and heightens the sense of fragility and sparseness of the overall sound; this in contrast with the intricacies of the music itself.  Moving to piano to play the delicate opening of  ‘Anecdotes’, Newsom is ably assisted by Miribai Peart on violin before changing mid-song to the harp and back again to piano for the closing part.  This dizzying performance is only the first song of many this evening that remain as spellbinding as their studio counterparts. An accomplishment all the more striking given the pared-down band -alongside Peart is one of Newsom’s skilled arrangers, Ryan Francesconi on a variety of stringed instruments, and her brother Pete on percussion and keyboards.

There is little in the way of changes to the lights or backdrop – neither the music nor Newsom’s performance requires it – but her remark to “Put a little more light on the strings” of her harp illustrate the complexity of what she undertakes.  In all, it’s hard to pick out highlights or make criticisms when the level of musicianship and sheer originality of Newsom’s work dazzles throughout. Audience reactions to new songs such as ‘Time, As A Symptom’ and ‘A Pin-Light Bent’ are as enthusiastic as for fan favourites like ‘Have One On Me’ (now much faster and almost jaunty compared to the slower-paced original) and the epic ‘Emily’.

Closing the evening with an encore including ‘Baby Birch’ and ‘Peach, Plum, Pear’, Newsom remains a revered figure to her fans and seems to gain new admirers with every tour and album.  Joanna Newsom inspires what can only be called worship from those that love her unique sound and marvel at the fact that such music exists.  Despite her growing popularity this is one artist who will never be mainstream.

Marc Le Breton

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