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05 Oct 06

i’m in awe of joanna newsom…and i’m not alone

it’s about time joanna newsom finally played a show in toronto. she played the mod club last night, alone on stage with her enormous harp, and i haven’t seen many shows like it. since she’d never played toronto before, she elected to alternate between older songs (from the milk-eyed mender) and new ones (from her forthcoming ys which, incidentally, is a crazily ambitious album that i think is best defined as a grower). i think it’s safe to say that i’ve never seen anyone cram as many words into an hour as she did – her songs are complex and very wordy (for lack of a better word) in a good way, and the lack of traditional verse-chorus-verse song structure or any kind of extended instrumental stretches left me wondering how she didn’t mess up the lyrics more often than the one time she did (which, incidentally, she covered quite well by simply replaying that section over again without missing a beat).

i watched her with the kind of awe that i feel when i watch paul aucoin and his hylozoists play live – like his mastery of the vibraphone, joanna newsom makes playing the harp look easy, in spite of the fact that it’s twice her size and has 47 strings. it’s insane to watch. at one point i was trying to figure out how she knows which string is which, and i got my answer shortly after when she kindly requested that the lighting guy stop using saturated colours that make all of the strings the same colour.

the crowd was both unbelievably attentive, as well as almost too at home with joanna. i haven’t seen an audience so completely entranced by a performance since i saw sondre lerche at lee’s palace a couple years ago, but between songs the setting felt so intimate (well, as much as the mod club ever does) and she seemed so approachable that people couldn’t resist but talking to her as though she were in their living room: “i love you!” “come to toronto more often” “come to toronto every month!” “never leave!” etc. at one point, someone in the front row even gave her a handkerchief because she was so warm. crazy.

the show only lasted a little over an hour, including a 2 song encore, but it was a jam packed hour. i get the sense that she would’ve played even longer if she wasn’t getting blisters – an occupational hazard – but i’m not complaining.

[thanks to the omnipresent chromewaves for his lovely joanna newsom photo]

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Pronunciation: 'ch&mp
Function: noun
Etymology: perhaps blend of chunk and lump
Date: 1883

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