Gig Review: Joanna Newsom & Northern Sinfonia at Manchester Bridgewater Hall, January 15, 2007

On Sunday night I was upstairs checking my email. As I started to cross from one room into another, to turn off all the excess lights, I heard what I thought was our cat making a horrible noise – I thought he might be in pain. I started down the stairs when little Cosmo ran up them, fleeing from the kitchen but otherwise fine. I could still hear the noise. Halfway down I realised that The Ledge was in the kitchen listening to The Milk-Eyed Mender. ‘Aha!’ I thought, ‘My first impression of Joanna Newsom really was not so off-base, she really does sound like an injured cat yowling.’ But that’s a bit unfair really. Although her voice is, shall we say, unusual, it has its own character and I’ve actually grown quite fond of its unusual tone since The Ledge first tied me down and forced me to listen to “Bridges and Balloons.”

Since then, we’ve seen her live twice: once at the Academy 2 where even The Ledge struggled to see her over the heads of the giant men who turned out in support, and once at All Tomorrow’s Parties where her set was plagued by drunkards talking so loudly it was difficult to hear her during the quieter bits of the songs. Needless to say, we were ecstatic about the prospect of seeing her in an appropriate setting! No worries about the acoustics and lack of visibility in the Academy 2. No fears of drunken chatter drowning out her vocals. Just the amazing acoustics of the Bridgewater Hall, Joanna, her harp and a classical orchestra. We missed out on the opening act as we were having a drink in the bar, and as we filed into the hall we were surprised and pleased to note that signs indicated she would play with the orchestra for an hour, take a 20 minute break and then perform another 40 minutes unaccompanied.

First emerged the orchestra, tuning their violins and cellos. Then she emerged, all smiles, looking dwarfed by the conductor and two further musicians, a drummer/backing vocalist, and a guitarist who also played banjo and bazouki throughout the course of the evening. She then proceeded to launch into a breathtaking and exhilirating run through her second album, Ys, from start to finish. She was, despite the numerous musicians behind her, very much the centre of attention and while The Ledge tells me he was fascinated by all the different musicians playing their different parts, I couldn’t take my eyes off her hands up and down the harp, wondering how she managed to play so perfectly and sing such complex and skillfull poetry so sincerely at the same time. The first two numbers, “Emily” and “Monkey and Bear” despite their length, flew past. I was surprised to hear a male voice, before I realised the percussionist was singing harmonies. It worked very well. Then the orchestra put their instruments down and watched as Joanna performed “Sawdust and Diamonds” by herself, the most moving part of the first half of show. They picked their instruments back up as she concluded with “Only Skin” and “Cosmia,” giving many kudos to the orchestra between songs and gushing and smiling at the audience reaction. Then she exited for the interval.

When she re-emerged, along, she immediately leapt into “Bridges and Balloons” which sounded magnificent, her fingers flying up and down the strings of the harp, mesmerising. She then performed what she called an old Scottish folk song as well as a new track, accompanied by the bazouki player and the singing percussionist. She also did a startling version of “Book of Right On” and the highlight of the set, the tender “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie” before finishing with “Peach, Plum Pear,” the latter half only broken by more praise for Northern Sinfonia and a brief exit while the crowd bayed for her return. When she finished and the lights went up, the young woman sat behind me had tears in her eyes. While I wasn’t quite moved to tears myself, it was a remarkable performance and I’m looking forward to her ATP performance in April, even if I have to endure more infuriating talking and a lack of concert hall acoustics.

Joanna Newsom – Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie

Joanna Newsom – Monkey And Bear

7 Responses to “Gig Review: Joanna Newsom & Northern Sinfonia at Manchester Bridgewater Hall, January 15, 2007”

  • yankunian Says:

    You know, I’ve never gotten past the “oh my god, what ARE they doing to that poor cat” stage. But so many people love her music that I must be missing something…

  • JustHipper Says:

    I’m glad it’s not just me that thinks she sounds like that then. You should give it another go and try to ignore the yowling cause she writes some pretty amazing lyrics.

  • The Indie Credential » Blog Archive » Justhipper’s Top 10 Gigs of 2007 Says:

    […] Joanna Newsom @ Manchester Bridgewater Hall, January 15th (review) […]

  • sam n stuff Says:

    Personally never had any trouble with the voice myself. Don’t really listen to much else like it but it does beg to listening on its own terms, and then u just have an incredibly poetic, impassioned and adept performance/

  • Nancy Says:

    He told the Big Issue: It would lift my worries about inheritance
    tax david cameron because maybe I’d be allowed to sack unproductive workers at will.
    Mr Cameron said welfare changes, tackling the deficit,
    even as late as the Sixties, Harold Wilson preferred to live in an area for between two
    and five years before going on the waiting list. What on earth must the Lib Dems are committed to continuing
    david cameron the dialogue with the Government.
    This would be a” stash of cigarettes”.

  • Teters Says:

    Todays deal provides free coupons and discounts codes of on line deals to save your money on online purchase. Its is side where you can search and browse more than 15000 free discount codes and coupons of online stores, products and brand of your own choice. Todays deal helps people to save their money on online purchase by availing free discount codes and coupons on our webpage while making online purchase from your favorite online stores and brands. We provide the guide line not only to our regular customers but also to those who are new to online purchase by extending the benefit on your retail order by using discount codes and coupons.

  • Nihal Says:

    I must say, as a lot as I enjoyed reading what you had to say, I couldnt help but lose interest after a while. Its as if you had a wonderful grasp on the subject matter, but you forgot to include your readers. Perhaps you should think about this from far more than one angle. Or maybe you shouldnt generalise so considerably. Its better if you think about what others may have to say instead of just going for a gut reaction to the subject. Think about adjusting your own believed process and giving others who may read this the benefit of the doubt.

Leave a Reply