It was announced last week that harpist Joanna Newsom will be releasing her third album on Feb 19th in Australia (Feb 23rd else where in the world). The follow up to Newsom's 2006 epic masterpiece will be called "Have One on Me". Recently, she has been touring Australia and treating her devoted followers to the new material from the album.
Seeing a show at Melbournes Forum Theatre is always an amazing experience, because the atmosphere created by the proscenium arch and the trees that surround it set the mood for the night you are in for, regardless of who is playing. Obviously tonight though, it makes a lot more sense that someone like Joanna be playing in this outdoor but indoor setting. What does not make sense though, is the decision to not have the concert be seated. Don't get me wrong, I love joanna, but she's not really the kind of artist you want to be standing and listening to for 2 hours. Your legs get tired and awkward from not moving about (you can't exactly dance to her songs) so you spend a lot of time thinking about how uncomfortable you are, instead of focusing on what's happening on stage.
Anyway, as the faux stars and nature beam down on the audience, she opens with the first of many new songs for the evening, Jack Rabbits. A slow picking of the harp as joanna questions if she can love again. She follows up by introducing her band and explaining that some of her older songs have been reworked to include the band and proceeds to play a dressed up version of Bridges and Balloons much to the crowds enjoyment.
What followed next, was possibly my highlight of the evening. She debuted a new song, which is apparently the title track of the album, Have One on Me, which went for about 7 or 8 minutes in which Newsom weaves tales of daddy long legs and big black spiders in doorways. The most thrilling part about this song was that it changed style and tempo at least 5 times. There was an epic break down towards the end, where Newsom and her two backing violinists did some vocal harmonies, before snapping back to the lulling picking of her harp without so much as a seconds break. This song alone reassured me entirely about the possibility of Newsom's next album being terrible.
It's really difficult to see a gig, where a lot of the material is new and unknown. As exciting as it is to be witnessing new material, it's just hard to 100% enjoy it, because you haven't yet had a chance to forge a connection with it. Having said that though, Newsom managed to enthrall the audience with her fantastic new tales of hidden autumn creeks and mysterious lands with little effort. However it is when she plays her older material that the audience really respond. Her reworking of Emily was breathtakingly beautiful, The last time I saw this song performed, it was Newsom alone, but this time accompanied with a full band, made it a thousand times better. The inclusion of drums on the track, makes the climactic point of the song seem so much more dire and important. As she wails about the oncoming meteor storm, there comes a loud thumping of thunder sounding drums to the right of the stage, but as chaotic as all this sounds, Newsom manages to reassure us with her harp and trilling voice that there is still hope for us yet, that we will live to survive another meteor shower. It was an intensely beautiful moment.
Joanna stopped the show, midway through one of her new songs ("In California") to alert the venue staff that someone had fainted at the front of the stage. It was swelteringly hot for some reason in the Forum that night and the heat had obviously got to this person, but instead of the security or venue staff rushing to their aid, it was Newsom that offered the fainted guest her own bottle of water. Five minutes later, things seemingly resolved (it was really difficult to see what the hell was going on) Newsom resumes her position and asks us if we'd like her to move on or start the song again, which she does to great applause.
Newsom's revamping of Peach Plum Pear was so frightfully beautiful. Again, the inclusion of drums has changed this song so much and made it infinitely more powerful. Watch below for yourself (or just listen, the image isn't that great)
There were some concerns that she may have gone a bit pop, a bit weird(er). Since dating Andy Samberg, and appearing in the MGMT film clip for kids, people were concerned that she may have done what everyone else appears to be doing these days and gone disco, but she hasn't. We'll have to wait until Have One Me is Released to know for sure, but from this sneak preview, I think it's safe to say that Newsom still has it and that her third album will be as interesting as Ys was when we first heard it 4 years ago.