Joanna Newsom – Palace Theatre, Manchester – 18 September 2010

Ten great gigs from 2010: #7

Joanna Newsom. Photo by Daniel Arnold.

With three discs clocking in over two hours, Joanna Newsom’s Have One On Me is unlike any other album released this year, marrying her schoolgirl voice to song structures as complex and diverse as any on previous album Ys. Although the singular music might be thought to produce a detached performance, her show at the Palace was as impressive for its personality as its intricacy.

The mood of the evening was set during a support slot by the jovial Mancunian Roy Harper. His collection of folksongs was punctuated by cheeky, not-quite-comprehensible political and religious asides, delivered with knowing looks from the man often described by Newsom as her musical hero.

Cutting a friendly figure on stage, Newsom preserved the character of her support, often trading lines with drummer Neal Morgan, whose insistence on drinking from a sauerkraut jar to avoid plastics was one of a few unusual topics of conversation between songs.

When the songs began, the band was little short of exceptional. Album arranger Ryan Francesconi dropped in motifs on numerous Balkan stringed instruments, whilst a trombonist played a central part in an ornate reimagining of older track ‘Cosmia’ – breathing new life into the song, it was a sure musical highlight.

Newsom herself was easily the star of the show, though, traversing with precision the ornate plains of ‘Soft as Chalk’’s Americana and the stilling, restrained ‘In California’. And by interspersing the sophisticated ensemble performances with banter, her concert mixed a sublime breadth of vision with the enjoyably human ridiculous.

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