I live in Salford. I go to gigs. I write about the gigs. And other stuff...

Friday, April 15, 2005

Joanna Newsom, Manchester Academy 2, 14th April 2005

Parking is the main problem tonight. With all three Academy venues hosting gigs I finally find a space at the dodgy end of Denmark Road. I get to walk past the sad Terrorvision fans filing into The Academy, and past the touts outside trying to offload tickets for a fiver. The only hot ticket in town tonight is for Joanna Newsom at the Academy 2. While I'm parking, Mrs Ledge queues for tickets to future gigs in the union foyer and spots Johnny Marr making his way upstairs to watch Six Organs of Admittance - tonight's main support.

The gig had been advertised as "partially seated" which makes sense given the nature of the musical fare on offer. However, on entering the hall there isn't a chair in sight and the place is packed already. The promoters obviously bowed to an extraordinary demand for tickets and scrapped that idea. Not only is the hall packed, but it's packed with extremely tall people. Joanna Newsom has got the tallest following of any artist I've ever seen. The area at the front of the stage is almost exclusively a male preserve; tall men, young and old, awaiting the arrival of their elfin goddess. Mrs L, who was looking forward to sitting with a decent view of the action, is now resigned to another two hours of staring at some tall guy's back.

Yet again we miss the first band. In the last three gigs we've missed The Black, half of The Magic Numbers and now White Magic. Spooky. Six Organs of Admittance are from California and play lo-fi folk. It's a shaky start as the first song grates with annoying distorted vocals from the female singer as she tinkles away on her keyboard accompanied by the occasional tambourine flourish from Six Organs' protagonist, Ben Chasny. As the song progresses, however, its repeated verse becomes, at first, tolerable and then essential. I miss it when its gone. After a forgettable second song the duo take up their acoustic guitars for the rest of the set. In keeping with the lo-fi ethic the guitars are wildly out of tune and attempts to tune up between songs are perfunctory to say the least. The resulting discord lends a ramshackle charm to the songs, though I seem to be one of only a few among the chattering throng who recognises this.

Joanna Newsom enters to rapturous applause, strides purposefully to the front of the stage and proceeds to belt out "Yarn And Glue" at the top of her voice; unaccompanied and unamplified. Its a brave opening gambit and works a treat. The crowd fall silent, straining to hear. Joanna begins to clap along like an excited schoolgirl. The audience does the same, completely drowning out the rest of the song.

Joanna then takes to her harp and the remainder of the performance is played out to a hushed, reverential audience who erupt into prolonged applause at the end of each song. The Harp is black and imposing and about as cool looking as a harp can get. She plays with incredible skill and precision, her fingers coated with superglue to protect from the rigours of the tour.

She plays most of the Milk-Eyed Mender album and it sounds amazing, her harp and voice coming across the PA as clear as a bell. She's joined occasionally by a flautist but sounds so compelling unaccompanied that I barely notice. Highlights are "Bridges And Balloons", "Cassiopeia", "Sadie", "Book Of Right-On", "Peach, Plum, Pear", "En Gallop", "Swansea", hell, the whole thing's the highlight. Except for "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie" which finishes the main set and is the highlight of the highlights; a remarkable song from a remarkable talent. She's not for everyone, though, and by the time the encore of the stunning "The Sprout And The Bean" comes around the crowd has thinned a little, though not shrunk- the tall people remain enamoured. And in the way. Bridgewater Hall or The Lowry next time, please.

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