Sympathetic Stupid

Monday, October 17, 2005

Joanna Newsom & Smog: Prince Bandroom & Athenaeum

It's been put to me that going to the same concert two nights in a row is kinda disturbing. But they were different venues! Anyway, a real hardcore fan would have gone up to Castlemaine the next night as well. And a real fan would probably've got tickets that weren't right in the back corner of the Athenaeum. But anyway.

Quite different venues, quite similar shows, an interesting contrast. The Prince Bandroom is a beautiful space, but with seats taking up the entire pit, it was a bit crushy and obscured for the kids up the back in standing room. Isn't there some sort of etiquette that says that beanpoles have to stand up the back so us shortarses can actually see?

Smog, first. Big Bill Callaghan. He's not especially prepossessing, but, as Symposiast Elanor sayeth, it's all about the charisma. He's got that sort of tall brooding funny dancing Nick Cave thing going on and it just works on stage - not surprising, I guess, as he's lasted 15 years in the game. Dry, dry, dry humour. And legs.

The legs are the real star of the show. Bill strings his guitar high, and of course his arms and torso are constantly occupied with playing it. Below, his legs, looking about five feet long, and with a high degree of autonomy; they have to support him but aside from that are allowed the latitude to go nuts. At the Prince, he was perched on an awkward stool for a few songs, and the legs propped him up, at times spread wide, clenched together, jigging or tapping. Then, when standing, there were the full repertoire of dance moves - side kicks, Elvis' trembling knees, two-steps. And all at the most incongruous times, divorced from either rhythm or melody.

And the music was very good, as well.

So, then, Joanna. Night one, at the Prince, I wasn't convinced. The harp seemed out-of-place, the vocals twee and she seemed uninterested, just playing the tracks and finishing up. In short, it was everything other people had told me I should think about Joanna Newsom. But I think this might have been more about my external circumstances.

Because the second night it was magic. Maybe the venue was more suited? It was better with the a cappella track starting the show, as it was very solid - her voice may have unconventional tone but she has good pitch and range. There were the epics, and the album tracks. The highlight of the evening was definitely halfway through Sadie, where she forgot the words and actually had a chat to the audience, something that had been mostly missing from the previous night. Maybe the music should speak for itself, but it's strange to listen to someone who barely acknowledges that you're there, for mine.

It's interesting that at a Joanna Newsom gig you probably hear - or notice - more dud notes than at any other. Despite the fact that she's obviously a harp virtuoso. But it's equally true that you probably hear more notes, in total, than at any other gig. Maybe sixteen tones a second, on average? A massive, multi-layered sound comes from the instrument. Combining this with the similarly multi-layered, non-linear, esoteric lyrics that Joanna writes, it's not surprising that a few bits go missing occasionally. It must be a pretty gruelling mental workout.

The bigger question, of course, is will their relationship last and when the baby's gonna be born... Oh, no, that's right, that's Tom and Katie. Simple mistake to make, though.