The Royal Albert Hall was made for Joanna Newsom. Forget anything you think you may know about it's official history. It opened in 1871 and has played host to over 150,000 shows since then. But not one of them could compare to the show I witnessed on 28th August 2007.
I wasn't the only person to think it was a special show. Joanna proclaimed it to be one of the highlights of her musical career. This wasn't arrogance. I doubt she is capable of such things. No, her reason for enjoying the show was her chance to see Roy Harper perform his 1971 classic, Stormcocks from start to finish in his 45 minutes supporting set. Apparently she watched his full set from one of the boxes in the audience. I have to admit it was a highlight for me and was a fine compliment to her set that followed.
The whole event was opened by the Moore Brothers, Joanna's friends from California. Again, these boys did not disappoint and made their presence felt with their Simon and Garfunkel style harmonies and soft acoustic guitar. One guitar which was shared between the brothers throughout their set.
Nobody needs to hear me obsess about how wonderful I think Joanna Newsom is and how Ys was one of the greatest albums of 2006 and of the New Weird America movement. Her set list was a combination of her two albums and her recent EP, Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band EP.
It is always strange to hear Ms Newsom playing along with a band. The first time I heard her perform was a solo set at the Green Man Festival in 2005. Just one girl and her harp against a crowd of folksters. It was one of the few shows where I have insisted at being at the very front. However even with a full band behind her at the Royal Albert Hall, none of the magic was lost. In fact, it added to her performance.
What I will say is, from the moment Newsom started playing, the audience was captivated. In such a large hall, she appeared so small and yet you could literally see her music traveling through the hall and strike the faces of each audience member. Each note played perfectly and each song was met with a loud round of applause. Towards the end of the night, there were several standing ovations.
Easily the song most altered at her live performances is Inflammatory Writ. It was originally a piano piece, and possibly isn't as catchy when transfered to Newsom's instrument of choice, the harp. But it still retained it's charms.
The Moore Brothers reappeared to sing a Scottish folk song as part of a duet with Newsom before being sent away to grab Newsom's mobile so she could take a few photos of approximately 8,000 people in audience.
My biggest complaint about the whole event was my seat. I was in the arena, which technically sounded awesome when I rushed to order my ticket. However because the stage wasn't raised and Royal Albert Hall was fully seated, at times I had to swing my head back and forth against the flow of the sea of heads in front of me. But this is only a minor issue. In all honesty, I spent much of the performance with my eyes shut, caught up in the dreamscape of Newsom's lyrical creation.
With a few new songs on offer, Newsom had done all she could to ensure a good night was had by all. I doubt I'll ever see a performance so memorable as my night with Joanna at the Royal Albert Hall.
For more Newsom Goodness check out Vu's review back in July 2007, which I have just stumbled upon myself.