Visions of Joanna (with Neko)

Joanna Newsom

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Last night Joanna Newsom played a 7 song set, and debuted 4/5ths of her new album Y’s before thousands (it’s a big pool) of respectful fans at the McCarren Park Pool. Now, I gotta tell ya, I am a big fan of Joanna’s first record, and she was basically the reason I went to this show in the first place. But I must admit, when I first heard the new Joanna Newsom album would only contain 5 songs, I got a little bit worried. In my books, there is a fine line between ambition and self indulgence. Now, after hearing 80% of the new songs, how do I feel? Did she cross the line? Well, I guess a few thoughts come to mind, and I’ll share them with you. First, I have to give her credit for the intelligence and complexity of the new tunes, they are like mini-novels each one, with no filler. They are all just balls out (pardon the mismatched euphemism) singing and playing for 10 plus minutes each. Now, having heaped on all that praise, I do have a few criticisms of the new tunes and the night in general. First, and I don’t mean to sound whiny here, but it’s hard to stand attentively for a 15 minute song or even a 12 minute song, for that matter. Now, I’m not sure why it’s harder to stand for one 12 minute song, versus four 3 minute songs, but it just is. My friend John suggested that you lose the toe tapping ability in a 12 minute song, and I’d have to agree with that. The new songs are not really toe tappers. I also think the new songs are probably best heard in a theatre environment where people can recline and relax, or on CD where you can sit back in the comfort of your own home. Standing just doesn’t work for these songs, even though the crowd last night was very well behaved. The other thing about the new tracks is that all the pop sensibility of the first record is pretty much missing from them, which is not a surprise given the length of each track (Paradise By The Dashboard Light and Bohemenian Rhapsody notwithstanding). Now, you might disagree with me here, but I think an album composed of only long songs is going to alienate a lot of people, including current fans. Further, I don’t think this release will bring a lot of new Joanna Newsom fans out of the woodwork, and that’s a shame. I’m sure some critics will proclaim this new record a masterpiece, while others will simultaneously pan it, all I can say, is that whatever it is, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.

Oh yeah, Neko Case headlined the show and Martha Wainwright opened. I enjoyed Neko’s set, I’ll post some pictures later.