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February 26, 2007 | by  | in Music |
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Joanna Newsom

Sunday February 11 San Francisco Bath house

Rating: 4.5/5

Once again renowned folk musician Joanna Newsom graced our shores with her sublimely beautiful tunes. She’s like a gorgeous harp-wielding satellite, annually shooting through our skies and leaving us dumbstruck and smiling.

Supporting act Bill Callahan (a.k.a. Smog) was an absolute treat, delighting the sellout audience with his deadpan southern-American charm. Opening with ‘Hit the Ground Running’, Callahan’s masterful guitar work and deeply personal lyrics assured us that we were in the presence of an experienced songwriter. His performance was earnest and affecting, and his rhetorical musings during the final few strummed chords of closing song ‘Let Me See the Colts’ (“is there anything as still as sleeping horses?”) left the crowd in high-spirits.

Lithe, elfish and a wee bit clumsy, Newsom entered the stage. After a brief wrestle with her harp, she struck out the serenely beautiful first few notes of ‘Bridges and Balloons’ from her first album The Milk-Eyed Mender. Her music is utter escapism, and nothing conveys this as much as her first sung line of the evening; “we sailed away on a winter’s day…”

Following on with ‘Emily’ from her recently released album Ys, Newsom kept us absolutely entranced, even pausing between songs to engage in a bit of audience banter (about Indian fauna, no less). As she progressed we were treated to recent songs ‘Sawdust and Diamonds’ and ‘Cosmia’, as well as a good measure of older material, such as ‘Sadie’ and ‘Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie’. She even threw in an as-yet unreleased new song, complete with chorus yelps straight out of the Arcade Fire how-to guide.

As brilliant and talented a musician as Newsom is, there were still a few moments where her performance faltered slightly; she had to begin a verse of ‘Infl ammatory Writ’ anew after leaping into it with the wrong lyrics, and she also seemed to struggle with the quick-tempo finger-picking in the chorus of her new song.

However, these inconsistencies only served to illustrate what is so compelling about her music: it is human, possessing a sense of raw fragility and complexity.

Bowing out after ‘Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie’, Newsom re-emerged to perform ‘Peach, Plum, Pear’ as an encore to what had already been an astoundingly moving set. Let’s hope the satellite orbits again next year.

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