By Amrit Singh
Usually when I fall for an artist, I’m left a love-blinded fool, a sorry slave to a surge of endorphins, certain that the only reason said artist isn’t your favorite artist is because maybe you haven’t heard of them yet. When a friend says they don’t see it, I’m dumbfounded, scared, shivering, alone. With Joanna Newsom, though, I totally get it. I get why some friends turn up a nose, demand a track-skip. There’s her voice, a more affected strain of Kate Bush-isness that’s sure to grate on some ears; the whole sylvian nymph thing, what with the woodsy promo shots and the elven visage, a fable-ready sort of preciousness; add the pretension of playing the harp (“the harp! who does she think she is!”), and yes even just her beauty (this annoys, or at least polarizes, some I know and makes them question her appeal to, say, guys like me). And all I’m saying is, friend, being at BAM would’ve turned you.
Never mind the rare pleasure of hearing the full-bodied Ys suites accompanied by the versatile Brooklyn Philharmonic, rendering Van Dyke Park’s piquant orchestral arrangements to the note. Never mind the beauty of the space, the walls, the sheer occasion of it. The real story, for me, was how warm, real, self-aware, and magnetic Joanna was, herself. Her voice was a less caricaturized version of her own, all the beauty, less the unnecessary affect (at the edges, anyway). Her banter let on someone who knew well what we thought of her, and would have fun slowly dispelling it. “My hairdresser is here tonight, and he’s gonna kill me.” Wait, is she secretly a diva? “Because I cut my own hair. It was getting to be too much!” And after a spine-tingling “Sawdust & Diamonds” — a first set highlight, not coincidentally Ys’s only solo song — she broke the five-minute applause to say “Haidresser … that’s a word, right? That burning thought was why that performance was just, ehh.”
So if I’m not showing my hand yet: When set two was down to just the Ys Street Band (violin, drums, banjo) — to play Milk-Eyed Mender tunes, “Colleen” from the EP, some new stuff — the night only got stronger. Now you could focus on the intricacies of her playing, of her flawless technique and countermelodic arpeggiation. Now you could hear the way the quartet interacted and fed off of her direction, best seen in the amazing rearrangement of “Peach Plum Pear.” Pretty much, now you could focus on her — with less performers to feel guilty about ignoring. Joanna basked in the interpersonal dynamic of her quartet, their last show together after a year of touring, talking about Obama, talking about their dads, finally sending them off the stage, saying sadly, “Usually I make fun of them as they head off, but this is the last time we’re playing together and I’m emotional about it.” (After the requisite round of “Awwww”s, she delivered: “Just kidding I totally hate them.”)
The orchestral set was black dress, the quartet set was pink. Here’s pink:
Yes, fab people were there like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Sufjan Stevens and the Indian guy from Weeds/30 Rock (gotta love that). You’ve probably heard the cast of Saturday Night Live turned up Thursday night. You’ve probably also seen those pics of her and Samberg being cozy from months ago. Andy came again for a second helping (heads up, Smog) our night, and now, finally, I understand what the two of them could possibly talk about: pretty much anything.
Did you say you wanted a Pinback-esque cover of “Emily”? I thought so. Here.
Pictures and setlist below, and after that, super shaky video of second-set opener “Bridges And Balloons.”
02 “Monkey & Bear”
03 “Sawdust & Diamonds”
04 “Only Skin”
06 “Bridges And Balloons”
07 “Book Of Right On”
09 “Inflammatory Writ”
10 (New Song)
11 “Peach Plum Pear”
12 “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie”
13 (New Song — this one)
14 Karen Dalton cover (w/ Kevin Barker on banjo)