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Review: Joanna Newsom enchants, delights the Ritz Ybor in Tampa




Her harp was taller than she was.

In her tiny black-strapped dress and French-braided pigtails falling to her waistline, the enigmatic pixie that is Joanna Newsom played the 60-pound beast like it was an appendage during her concert Tuesday at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa. It seemed attendees dared not to speak during the show, as if not to break the spells spun from her enchanting epics and lyrical lullabies.

Some wiped their mascara-stained cheeks while others silently mouthed memorized words like they were their own.

“I like Florida. There’s something kind of special here,” the 28-year-old California native said before opening with The Book of Right-On.

She had a lot to say, in fact.


Things I learned about Joanna Newsom: She tries to collect honey from everywhere she travels, and takes suggestions. She and Pee-wee Herman have many things in common (you kind of had to be there for that one). A band member says she has “devil fingers.” She considers onstage communication with the band during a song as charades. For some reason she can’t explain, her foot taps out of rhythm during the song Have One On Me. She stops to accept gifts from the crowd. Sometimes she doesn’t feel like tuning her harp mid-show. She comments on her comments, and the crowd’s. She could see the faces of fans, and that made her happy.

When she wasn’t talking, she was singing, face full of animation. Her mouth would contort with the bending sopranos and shift into a radiant smile to match the next equally expressional sound. Fans, almost paralyzed in absorption, watched in complete attentiveness, hanging on every audible turn and animated flair.

Her backing quintet came armed with violins, a jaw harp, banjo, trombone, tambourine, tambura, drums and guitar alongside her harp and piano. Every sound counted. Operatic acappellas. Handclapping. The split-second silence between notes.

In the 12-song, two-hour performance, Newsom played from all three of her studio albums plus a track from a separate EP.

Her percussionist, Neal Morgan, was also the opening act, with an out-of-the box performance of spoken word from a black book backed by a boom box and drums. (He stopped mid-song to check on someone in the crowd and get them water.)

While 30 times more fans packed into the St. Pete Times Forum for Roger Waters Tuesday than the Ritz, the 461 people at Joanna Newsom’s Tampa debut witnessed what may have been the most unusual and intimate, yet intriguing, concert the Ritz has ever hosted.
As the night progressed, the colored strings on her harp seemed to sound out the now obvious: Newsom had niched out her own genre — albeit atypical and acquired —and made a mold to fit her 1,000 word epics, squirrelly sopranos and harpingly hip ways.

— Stephanie Bolling, tbt*

1. The Book of Right-On
2. Have One on Me
3. Easy
4. Cosmia
5. Soft as Chalk
6. In California
7. Inflammatory Writ
8. Colleen
9. Good Intentions Paving Company
10. Emily
11. Peach Plum Pear
12. On a Good Day
13. Baby Birch

[Last modified: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 9:26am]


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