On most nights, Joanna Newsom headlining Carnegie Hall might well top the list of notable musical events in New York City. This was not necessarily the case yesterday, when Kanye West performed an incredible surprise show downtown shortly after the indie singer-songwriter left the venerable Hall. But having miraculously managed to see both performances, I can attest that Newsom’s was too good to be overlooked.
This was the final night of a long tour for Have One on Me, the triple album that Newsom released early this year. Have One On Me runs about two hours, so it would have been impracticable to present everything from it. Instead, Newsom led a small but strong band — drummer, guitarist/banjo player, trombonist, and two violinists — through well-chosen selections from that album and her two previous ones.
She began on harp with 2004’s “Bridges and Balloons,” a wonderful song that non-fans might recognize from an LG/T-Mobile ad currently airing on TV. From that comparatively short number, she moved straight to “Have One on Me,” an 11-minute epic, then switched to piano for the almost-as-lengthy “Easy.”
At one point, Newsom marveled aloud at the acoustic properties of the Hall, a gilded cake of a room where everything seems to sound sweeter and fuller. She used the room to great effect on tangled compositions like “Emily” and “Cosmia” (from her 2006 masterpiece Ys) and more directly phrased new tunes like “In California” and “Good Intentions Paving Company” alike, making each word feel vividly alive.
I regretfully had to miss Newsom’s encore to catch that Kanye West show, but she was so great I hated to leave. Were any of you at Carnegie Hall last night, or did you see her earlier in this tour? Share your thoughts in comments.
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