Joanna Newsom at Casino de alianca del Poble Nou, Barcelona

Joanna Newsom- Casino de alianca del Poble Nou, Barcelona

4 May 2007

I’m proud of Joanna Newsom. Granted we aren’t friends and we have never had any personal encounters, but we are similar in age and I can recognize where she is in her life. It couldn’t have been easy growing up playing the harp and wanting to screech/yodel/croon songs about bears and monkeys. It takes moxie and that’s definitely what this girl has in spades.

Such courage to be herself has paid off.  Some might be inclined to throw her into the same female singer-songwriter box as Tori Amos or Fiona Apple. While her recorded work might lend it self to such an interpretation, in the flesh she contradicts any such comparisons with every pluck of her harpsichord. Rather, Newsom goes in a completely different direction, paving her own path of new folk.

Her opener Alasdair Roberts set the tone for this evening of rich, skillfull folk music. A native of Glasgow, Roberts charmed the crowd with self composed ballads and traditional Scottish ditties. The milieu was enhanced with the space of the Casino de alianca del Poblo Nou. As the guy next to me explained “They usually have shows for old people here.” The seating room only (on cushioned chairs at that) with two ornate balconies stretching overhead completed the cozy and classic scene. It was perfect for Newsom’s one of a kind vocals that, in one fail swoop, can go from piercing gasp to Appalachian yodel to smoldering alto. But, all of this is merely sidebar to her mesmerizing ability to play the harp. Although there was some technical difficulty with her string tuning, Newsom and her band were in sync, performing songs part folk, part avant garde but all stimulating to the ear and heart. She captivated and amazed the audience whose applause were longer and louder after every song than any I have ever experienced.

She has played backup for many including Smog, toured with Will Oldham and has released four albums, two on major label Drag City. This was her first show in Spain and I’m certain it won’t be her last. She does to the harp what Miles Davis did to the trumpet. Somewhere there’s a little girl out there who knows the secret of Joanna Newsom and feels cool going to her harp lesson every week.


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