WOMADelaide Review: Joanna Newsom

Joanna Newsom
Image Courtesy of WOMADelaide

Joanna Newsom
Sunday – Stage 1

My experience with Joanna Newsom prior to WOMADelaide, I would have to admit, is severely limited. As a writer focusing on nu-folk Newsom should be high on my list of must-listen to artists but somehow she has stuck to the fringes of my music collection and, as a result, only crops up occasionally on my iPod. So it’s probably not surprising that I went into Joanna Newsom’s one and only WOMADelaide show expecting to be challenged and having to work hard to appreciate her music.

So I was pleasantly surprised when Newsom’s music was not only accessible but incredibly likable as well. Sporting a 5 piece backing band, including multi-instrumentalist and arranger Ryan Francescioni and percussionist Neal Morgan, Newsom deftly swapped between piano and her trademarked harp performing soaring, musically complex pieces to a grateful audience.

By the third song of Newsom’s set the sun had gone down and Adelaide’s locust plague had decided to make Stage 1 their home. At first Newsom seemed to cope exclaiming “Y’all, there are bugs up here” and “we need a distraction – does anyone have a huge bowl of honey?” but when they started to fly at her face and crawl into he hair she yelped and performance was temporarily paused.

“I’m not scared of them. They’re just flying into my open mouth and eyeballs,” explained Newsom as a stage-hand appeared to swat the locusts for her as she soldiered on. Rather than interrupt the show the bug invasion actually endeared Joanna Newsom to the crowd and had them cheering everytime a locust was prevented from getting within an inch of her (big props to the stage hand there!).

Joanna Newsom’s voice was described in the WOMADelaide program as being “intriguing” but I think it fits her music perfectly. There’s a percussive nature to the way she sings (particularly with the generous use of alliteration in her lyrics) which compliments the plucked notes of the harp. My highlight of her set would definitely have been “The Book of Right On” which, contrary to the vast arrangements of her other tracks, was concise, poppy and definitely appealing.

Prior to WOMADelaide I probably wouldn’t have gone to a Joanna Newsom solo show. But now? Now I’ll be in the front row.

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