As I was waiting for Joanna Newsom to take the stage at Washington’s Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on Tuesday night, a flock of young girls sat down next to me in the pew. While none of them seemed any older than about 10, they all looked the part of Newsom acolytes: braided hair, tie-dye t-shirts, wide-eyed excitement. Their mother explained that not only were they huge Newsom fans, they were also aspiring harpists. It was, admittedly, a somewhat peculiar sight, one that for a cynic might have served to reinforce Newsom’s reputation as a renaissance faire refugee and a magnet for the same. But to me, the troupe of pint-sized fans pointed toward something far less superficial. Through their eyes I saw Joanna Newsom as not just a talented songwriter and musical virtuoso but as something arguably more significant: a pop artist who serves as a role model for girls who aspire to be serious musicians.
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Spoon’s live show is always a pretty safe bet. The Austin indie underdogs have been chugging along for over a decade and a half now, winning audiences over night after night with their powerhouse sets and detached cool. But how do you wow a crowd that’s come over the years to expect nothing less than consistent excellence? Spoon’s answer: surprising setlists and engaging openers. Playing tracks off of their latest LP, Be Brave, fellow Austinites The Strange Boys warmed up the crowd with a set’s worth of twangy garage pop. Up next were Deerhunter, whose swirling cathedrals of sound managed to suck in even the night’s headliners (Britt Daniel and Jim Eno could be seen on the second floor balcony for much of Deerhunter’s set, geeking out and videotaping, respectively). Finally, Britt Daniel took the stage solo for an acoustic rendition of “Me and the Bean” before being joined onstage by the rest of Spoon for a 90-minute set of taut, groove-heavy, minimalist jams that drew heavily from this year’s excellent Transference, while throwing a few bones to diehards in the form of covers and old favorites (“Jonathan Fisk” was an especially welcome surprise). There’s a reason why, when Metacritic named Spoon the best band of the last decade, no one so much as batted an eyelid: they’re the only band that manages to achieve perfection on a nightly basis without breaking a sweat.
Alan Palomo of Neon Indian