Harpist Joanna Newsom wows audience at Orpheum Theatre

“I think this is like the prettiest room I’ve ever played in,” said Joanna Newsom as she sat down at her harp at Phoenix’s Orpheum Theatre on Nov. 7. But no one else was paying attention to the dark theater; all eyes were fixated on the elegantly dressed harpist as she flitted her fingers across the strings.

Back on tour for her new album, “Have One on Me,” Newsom has welcomed new arrangements and performers — two violinists, a trombone player, an arranger who conducts the strings and a percussion head.

Neal Morgan on drums was recognized during the concert for writing all of the percussion for the recent album while Ryan Francesconi, who held his own at the guitar, banjo and recorder, rearranged some of Newsom’s older tracks.

As Newsom began with “Bridges and Balloons,” her quirky folk voice became an endearing quality to define the 28-year-old’s sound. She became her genre’s rock star, just outside the limits of tossing her instrument post-set.

Newsom continued with “Have One on Me.” Her calm voice juxtaposed the violin’s rapid fire and her own fingers flying across the strings, too fast to keep up with. As the last of the strings came in with the guitar, nothing was lost in the sound: Each instrument managed to hold their own. Still, Newsom’s harp remained the center of this piece.

Her voice continued to border on awkward, but became such a vital part of her signature that it eased the audience into this trance of eight-minute songs. The feeling of a different world began to fill the senses as Francesconi’s recorder pulled in an Irish folk sound. The audience became a part of this birth of an amazing arrangement as each instrument entered.

An aspect of Newsom that is refreshing is her ability to recite her lyrics so clearly that not a word is missed by the audience. As she pulled herself over to the piano, which she has played since the age of four, “Easy” began with drum brushes giving a light beat behind her resounding keys. Her expressions became more and more exaggerated: head bobs became full body movements and her head tilted at even more drastic angles than before.

Coming back to the piano, Newsom considered the new arrangement of “Colleen” they began to play as the audience’s own little “world debut.” Her exclamations of simple noises surprised the audience but became just another reason for whispers like, “How much cuter can she get?”

A job as a harpist is never easy as Newsom showed halfway through her set when she had to take a quick break to tune the gigantic instrument.

“Anything you guys want to talk about?” asked the harpist as she diligently moved through each string.

The audience then requested silly things like a unique solo from the trombone player, Andrew Strain, to which Strain replied with the deepest notes he could hit. Listeners shouted congratulations to the band and praise to the amazing set as well as the reveal of an audience member who pierced Newsom’s mother’s ear three years ago in New York.

The comedic break ended with Newsom’s words, “I think we’re all a little wiser now,” as she began “Good Intentions Paving Company.”

The band continued to show off their talented harmony. Extensive lyrics were recited and “Peach, Plum, Pear” brought a detailed harp solo to round out the set. The giddy harpist exited as the audience gave Newsom and her band a standing ovation, to which she could not deny an encore of “Baby Birch.” Those final two pieces became the strongest of the night only to be known as eerie, captivating, soothing and trancelike.

Reach the reporter at lkjorda1@asu.edu


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