Red draw curtains, giant chandeliers, and seating for over two thousand people at a theater that has been around since the early 1930’s could be somewhat intimidating to most. This intimate setting, the Orpheum Theater, is where musician extraordinaire Joanna Newsom set her stage. The young harpist attracts quite the crowd, as her show had completely sold out before I even arrived at the theater, which at showtime had tons of people gathering to go inside. Inside, no stage was set, just chairs set up in a half circle with music stands and instruments. Robin Pecknold opened up for Newsom with an acoustic set that set the stage with an intimate feel. No frills, just music. True, pure live music.
After an extended intermission of about half an hour, the woman of the night arrived. She just walked on stage, waved and dove right into her first song. Instantly, everyone is quiet, all in the same trance that this whole experience brings. The harp was played so beautifully that everything else just stopped. Newsom was completely engrossed in her playing, swaying and bobbing her head and shoulders and making many different facial expressions. It was like the music was almost playing her. At the conclusion of the song, she proceeded to introduce her five other players around her to accompany her throughout the show, with instruments including a bango, violin, trumpet and drums among others.
This hour and a half performance showcased a variety of different styles from your classic folk to an almost jazzy sound and Newsom was able to calibrate her voice along with them. She jumped back and forth the whole night between the piano and the harp. The piano-led songs had a bit more structure to them and were usually fun and bouncy, unlike the harp songs which were more dramatic, free flowing and sometimes a bit overdrawn, some reaching ten minutes in length. Overall, she performed greatly and embraced the complete audience, often stopping after completing a song to chat with us. Her hot topic that night: the film “Inception.”
Joanna Newsom is a beautiful, talented individual who puts on one hell of a show, awing crowds of all ages and people from all over. Look out for her she is rising fast!
All photos by Graeme Flegenheimer