Joanna Newsom | The Auditorium, Rome | 28 September, 2010

The last time we were lucky enough to see Joanna Newsom perform here in Rome was just over three years ago. On her previous visit she had played as a relatively unknown artist in Italy at the small San Giovanni venue Circolo degli Artisti, where she had received an enthusiastic response and even managed to bring an awed hush to the packed club. Last night in Sala Sinopoli at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, however, there was an atmosphere of quiet anticipation long before she appeared on stage. Roman audiences can be notoriously bad at sitting still and listening on occasions, but not tonight. Even Scottish folk singer Alasdair Roberts, who is supporting Newsom on this leg of her tour, and who had the unenviable task of playing most of his solo set of traditional songs with the house lights up as people made their way to their seats, was treated with unusual respect – rather than chat all over his performance, people quickly sat down and listened to his often haunting songs and applauded him warmly.

It was Joanna Newsom that we were all eager to see, however, so when she didn't appear right away and there was a protracted soundcheck after Roberts left the stage, anticipation turned to fractiousness in some parts of the theatre and even a ripple of slow clapping from some quarters...where was she? The very second she appeared, of course - all charismatic smiles and radiant beauty, saying grazie to the welcoming cheers - she was enveloped in nothing short of unanimous adoration. You could, quite literally, have heard a pin drop during the songs – there was even a nanosecond's pause after the last note died at the end of each piece and an almost collective sigh from the audience, before the deafening cheers, cries of brava! and applause filled the auditorium. Unlike at most popular music concerts, not once did anybody clap or cheer during the shifting moods of any individual number either. Joanna Newsom's songs - like all twelve enthralling minutes of Emily from her second album Ys, that she played so brilliantly last night - aren't over until she has taken you on the entire journey!

Whilst this tour is ostensibly promoting her latest triple CD Have One on Me, she opened the evening with The Book of Right-On, a gem from her first official recording The Milk-Eyed Mender, playing the instrument with which she is perhaps most associated – the harp – and accompanied by guitarist (and player of just about anything else with strings) Ryan Francesconi and percussionist Neal Morgan. They were then joined by the rest of her immensely talented backing band - Andrew Strain on trombone and Veronique Serret and Mirabai Peart on violins - for the title track from the new CD. I was thrilled to see a piano on stage – she'd played no keyboards last time I'd seen her – and indeed, she then moved to the keyboards for a stunning Easy. She would return to the piano several times during the evening, most notably during the exhilarating Good Intentions Paving Company (extra kudos to the trombonist during this song) and Soft As Chalk.

Harpist, pianist, singer and maybe even metaphysical poet, Joanna Newsom is an artist who defies categorisation and any attempts to pin down a comparison with other performers – Kate Bush and Jonie Mitchell spring most easily to mind – ultimately fail and one is left with the feeling that she is utterly and wonderfully unique. She is also one of those artists that one feels privileged to have seen and thankful to have had the opportunity to hear them perform at the absolute height of their creative powers. When she left the stage to a standing ovation after the final song Peach Plum Pear, Sala Sinopoli staff attempted to end the concert there and then, putting on the house lights and even slipping on some musak to encourage the audience to leave. We stayed obstinately in our seats and brought the house down until they let her back out again for an encore – an exquisite Jackrabbits performed with just voice and harp.

The woman is a genius - miss her at your peril!

The full set list as follows:
1. The Book Of Right-On
2. Have One On Me
3. Easy
4. Cosmia
5. Soft As Chalk
6. Kingfisher
7. Inflammatory Writ
8. Go Long
9. Good Intentions Paving Company
10. Emily
11. Peach Plum Pear
12. Jackrabbits


Thanks for your wonderful post and for sharing it with me :)

I've been waiting for this concert for some time, and wasn't in the least disappointed.

Cheers :D
Pearl said…
What a beautiful night that was!