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Sunday, March 14, 2010

we should shine a light on...

On Friday night, 800 or so of some of the strangest people you'd ever see crammed into the Calvin College Chapel. The average age looked to be about 20, young kids with '70s era suits, mustaches, skin tight pants, knit caps covering unwashed dreads, black eyeliner, not the kind of thing you see on the streets of Grand Haven & certainly not the kind of thing you would expect to see on the campus of Calvin College. They were all there to see the strangest character of them all, Joanna Newsom. They sat quietly in rapt attention to every oddly turned phrase, every manic strum of harp & every spine chilling warble that came out of her mouth. Her backing band included a mad scientist drummer in a three piece suit sans shoes & socks, a handsomely dressed trombone player with an average of about 20 seconds of playing time per song, two attractive looking violin players & a guitarists/banjo player (the brother of the mad scientist drummer) who at times played indistinguishably from the star of the show.

This is no freak show, as you might expect, the harp playing is no novelty act for wierd people who are looking for something wierd to listen to. This is a finely tuned, finely rehearsed cast of characters playing music, the likes of which you've never heard. Let me say that again, you've never heard music like this ever before, & if these people should retire & decide to become pharmaceutical sales reps, you'll probably never hear anything like this ever again. If you had to pin it down & put it in a box, it would combine both the elements of an opera & a folk song.

As talented as Newsom is as a harpist, piano player & songwriter, her greatest strength as a performer comes as a singer. Her odd voice effortlessly lilts between sharply & smoothly sung syllables. The lyrics aren't easily decipherable most of the time, but they are sung in such a way that makes you want to look them up & read them, & when you do, you aren't disappointed. Let me end by saying one more time, you've never heard anything like this before.

Five Favorite Songs of the Day

Occident-Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me

Mercy me, the night is long
Take my pen to write you this song
Lord, is it harder to carry on
Or to know when you are done

All my life, I’ve felt as though
I'm inside a beautiful memory
Replaying with the sound turned down low

Long-life, show your face
Slow-heart, curb your taste
Smoke me out of my hiding place
Long-life, state your case

What in the world are we waiting for
Building glowing cities along the shore
Where the wind batters in
Baiting my kin like a matador

So much value, placed upon
What lies just beyond our plans
Waving my handkerchief
Running along, till the end of the sand

Long-life, speak your name
I'm so tired of the guessing game
But, something is moving
Just out of frame
Slow-heart, brace and aim

Breaching slowly, across the sea
One mast, a flash, like the stinger of a bee
To take you away
A swarming fleet
Is gonna take you from me

The universe is getting loose
Sodden spread from some leaden disuse
Rushing, unhinged, toward diminishing lights
Like a headless caboose

I'll wait for you alongside the ocean
And make do with my no-skin
But then, Long-life, will you let me in
And then, Slow-heart, are you gonna know him

Long-life, speak your name
I wait, while I decry the wait
And when I die, may I relate
Slow heart, congregate

To leave your home and your family
For some distortion of property
Well, darling, I can't go
But you may stay
Here, with me

Not Dark Yet-Bob Dylan, Osaka Japan

Baby Birch-Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me

The Book of Right On-Joanna Newsom, The Milk Eyed Mendor

Soft As Chalk-Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me

Happy Sunday, friends...



Pam said...

Her music is infectious. Have you heard her speak? Does she speak in a "normal" voice? It's interesting to watch her facial expressions and mouth movements. And her "language" reminds me of Jodie Foster in "Nell". I like it.

Joyce said...

Infectious like a disease? Just kidding, it took me three days to review the entire blog with videos. It seems to me it's hard to improve on a harp and am not sure I want to hear much else with it, but I'm better off for spending the time to get to know her. Minus the musical talent, her songs remind me of the one's Seth makes up as he goes.

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Grand Haven, Michigan
the sun shines on a dog's ass every now & then...