PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Joanna Newsom: 18 March 2010 - New York

Zach Schonfeld

Ms. Newsom and her fantastic backing band gave Have One On Me the warmth and musical depth it deserves. But it was her revamped takes on older treasures that show how far she’s really come.

Joanna Newsom

Joanna Newsom

City: New York
Venue: Town Hall
Date: 2010-03-18

“Playing in New York always makes me kind of nervous,” Joanna Newsom confessed halfway through her March 18 set at Town Hall. She had no reason to be; truly, the acclaimed singer, songwriter, and harpist was among friends -- an audience of 1,500 devoted fans and admirers (including, reportedly, Lou Reed and longtime boyfriend/SNL personality Andy Samberg), captivated by her every move. During the quiet bits --opener “Jackrabbits”, say, with its yearning empty spaces -- you could hear the venue door creak. When applause rang out, the appreciation was palpable and deeply sincere. “You’re fantastic!” shouted one zealous audience-member above the din. “What’s that?” said Newsom. “Play faster?”

The modesty is not, I suspect, just an act. Obscured by her colossal instrument, nervously chattering between tracks, Newsom seemed genuinely flattered that we like her -- we really like her -- and without a hint of ego. Dutifully, graciously, she introduced her stage musicians one by one, and the credit was well earned. To hear Have One on Me is to marvel at the most intimate and expansive songwriting of Newsom’s career (Ys seems positively theatrical compared to the aching confessional of, say, “Does Not Suffice”), but to see it performed is to appreciate even more the subtle intricacies of Newsom’s densely woven arrangements.

Have One On Me claimed about two-thirds of the 90-minute set. Its heavy representation felt only justified -- not simply because it contains more songs than her previous two records combined, but also because of its gorgeous, sprawling richness. Buoyed by some of Newsom’s most personal, sweeping songwriting yet, it scales back Ys’s bombast in favor of both well-worn intimacy (“Jackrabbits”, “Go Long”) and folksy eclecticism (“Good Intentions Paving Company”, “Soft As Chalk”). These are wrenching songs about loving (“Easy”), losing (“Baby Birch”), and letting go (“Does Not Suffice”). Uncharacteristic in its lyrical and melodic directness, the record feels like the closest Newsom will come to a Blood on the Tracks -- a confessional opus, straight from the gut.

Perhaps, then, it’s that central contradiction that renders these songs’ live performance so compelling: their stark, piercing directness, complicated -- but never threatened -- by Newsom’s weaving, dense arrangements. Consider “Kingfisher” and “Baby Birch”, two of her strongest (and lengthiest) selections: melodies both hummable and mournful, lamenting and lilting, driven slowly and powerfully to swelling crescendos (and a gorgeous instrumental coda that lent “Baby Birch” its encore finality).

Newsom switched to piano for the pleading “Easy” (“Who asked you if you want to be loved by me?” demands the singer atop swelling orchestral flourishes) and the earthy “Soft As Chalk”, which was countrified by album arranger Ryan Francesconi’s whining twang guitar. (Indeed, Francesconi -- switching between guitar, banjo, and Bulgarian tambura -- and outstanding percussionist Neal Morgan proved their worth time and again throughout the set, complementing Newsom’s material with equal parts confidence and restraint).

But it was when she finally strayed from new material, launching into “Inflammatory Writ”’s bold, brassy piano intro, that she drew the greatest crowd response. This was the first of three Milk-Eyed Mender selections scattered throughout the night (from Ys came only “Emily”, an indisputable highlight); but instead of striving to recapture her debut’s sparse, childlike innocence, Newsom conferred onto it the bold, surefooted richness of Have One On Me. It was a delicate maneuver that allowed her to reconcile her stirring debut with half a decade’s musical growth. And so “Inflammatory Writ” came rejuvenated by strings and male backing harmonies. “The Book of Right-On” lent itself naturally to Neal Morgan’s driving percussive momentum (believe it); they sounded at once familiar and new, deeply enhanced by a newfound depth.

But only “Peach, Plum, Pear” achieved total redefinition, closing off the set (encore aside) with unequaled energy and grace. Gone completely were the shrill harpsichord and shaky vocalisms of its recorded version. Newsom’s voice has grown immeasurably since 2004, and she wrought the song’s cycling progression from the harp instead (teasing the audience with a four-chord intro that so slyly dared to be recognized). Morgan’s booming drums provided a rhythmic backbone foreign to any previous conception of the song, and the rendition blossomed into a gorgeous ensemble of string flourishes and backing harmonies, only to melt into an aching coda of trombone, cello, and harp interplay. “You’ve changed some,” goes the refrain. Indeed. She’s never sounded better.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.