Published Mar 14, 2010After a half hour set of mid-tempo, folk-tinged grooves courtesy of Kevin Barker's guitar-bass-drums trio, the curtains of the Phoenix pulled back to reveal a handful of classically trained musicians, including Joanna Newsom, who waved excitedly from centre stage before sitting at her grand piano. The band had only played "Easy" from Newsom's critically lauded Have One on Me, before she graciously introduced her band to individual applause. Then, they broke into The Milk-Eyed Mender's "Inflammatory Writ" and Have One on Me highlight "Soft As Chalk" before Newsom moved to her signature instrument and stage centrepiece, the harp. "Thank you for being here," she said. "Sorry if you're all stuffed out there."
"It's worth it!" shouted an excited fan, summing up a crowd-wide feeling: though concertgoers had waited an hour in heavy rain, strong winds and four-degree weather to be let slowly into the venue, the chance to see a rare and stirring performance by the singer-songwriter at an intimate venue was well worth the discomfort. The band continued with "In California" and another oldie, "The Book of Right-On," during which Newsom stopped suddenly, looked at the audience and asked, "Does anybody know the words to this song?" Such charm was repeated by her drummer, Neal Morgan, as he set to the task of amusing the audience while Newsom tuned her harp.
The band closed with full-ensemble renditions of the epic title-track "Have One on Me," "No Provenance," and the solitary Ys performance, "Emily." It was a short set, and there were hints that the band were being forced off the stage by a pending live radio broadcast from the venue. But after taking their leave the group returned to rapturous applause and delivered "Baby Birch." It was a bittersweet end, as one couldn't help but feel the group had another song or two in them, but a night in the company of Joanna Newsom's clear-as-glass alto-soprano and her band's virtuosic performance is nonetheless a night well spent.