Joanna Newsom | Circolo degli Artisti, Rome | 23 September 2007

Earlier this year I watched in despair as tickets to see Joanna Newsom at the Barbican in London quite literally disappeared before my very eyes on the on line bookings page of the Barbican Website. By the time I'd checked out flight times and the viability of flying over to the UK all the best seats seemed to have gone! Fast forward to Sunday evening here in Rome and the incredible opportunity to see Joanna Newsom in an intimate, albeit packed-to-capacity, venue in San Giovanni – the Circolo degli Artisti, a place famed for its support of emerging and less mainstream artists.

Very occasionally a concert is more than simply a good or even great concert – sometimes there is something so unique about the artist or a particular performance that you suddenly become aware that you're witnessing an unmissable event by a performer at the peak of their creative powers. And Joanna Newsom at the Circolo degli Artisti on Sunday evening was an extraordinary event. From the moment she stepped out on to the tiny stage accompanied by her brilliant band - pared down from the full orchestration of her last album Ys to only a violinist, a mandolin and banjo player, and percussionist – and sat at her harp to play the opening number Bridges and Balloons, the crowd fell into an awed silence only erupting into rapturous cheers after waiting for the dying final notes of the song to fade. This in itself already seemed a small miracle after the excellent support band, The Moore Brothers had struggled to out sing the noise of constant chatter that had sadly accompanied their Californian harmonies throughout their entire set. In fact, Joanna thanked them profusely on several occasions and said they were her favourite band of the moment. This generosity of spirit was apparent throughout her entire performance as she laughed and beamed between songs, and charmed the room with a combination of sheer genius and radiant beauty...because Joanna Newsom is strikingly beautiful in the flesh – more so, even, than in photographs. The words bellissima and bravissima were heard repeatedly between songs! Stunning versions of Emily and Monkey & Bear followed the opening song, before treating us to two numbers from her first album, The Milk-Eyed Mender - The Book of Right-On and Inflammatory Writ. Sawdust & Diamonds was another perfect gem in a faultless set...Closing the main show with a beautifully measured Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie, she came back on stage with a very special surprise for the encore. A completely new song that she said she had never performed before and had only just finished writing! Could it get any better? Yes, it could...she finished with Sadie, one of my personal favourites.

Here's that new Joanna Newsom song:

And the exquisite Sawdust & Diamonds: