Hebrew School


We saw Joanna Newsom at BAM
February 1, 2008, 4:32 pm
Filed under: events, folk, indie | Tags: ,

Anyhow – I sat by your side, by the water
You taught me the names of the stars overhead that I wrote down in my ledger
Though all I knew of the rote universe were those pleiades loosed in December
I promised you I’d set them to verse so I’d always remember

We had the pleasure of spending a fuzzy twilight with Joanna Newsom, who played last night to a sold-out house at the Howard Gilman Opera House at BAM.

She played the entirety of her 2006 album Ys with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra. Ys is an epochal album of lamentations and poetic studies of character (she studied both creative writing and music at Mills College). No song is under seven minutes long. They stretch out in beauty and verse.

Her distinctive voice remains remarkably true, though I don’t know how she does it. It’s kind of preternatural. Her performance with the orchestra was, if not dead on, lush and full of the warmish yet trebly quality the material demands. Amazingly, her harp drove the orchestra, particularly with its deep (and well-mic’d) bass notes that made it clear that all the musicians on stage and the conductor pretty much took her lead.

For her second set she played “older and newer” songs with the Ys Street Band, including an ostensible work in progress which was a treat. These were great but– at the risk of sounding critical of an indie-folk darling– I didn’t much care for the full band arrangements. Perhaps that’s just the conundrum of having heard her first album, The Milk-Eyed Mender, so many times; but really I’m disappointed at the mood and feeling shift that occurs when Newsom plays with a band. It took on a particular country-folky edge which was at times displeasing to my personal ear. From what she pointed out herself onstage, though, it seemed to be more of a byway to permit the continual rendering of the same older material night after night. So I forgive.

Later into the second set, she expressed, in fact on behalf of the band, her support for Barack Obama for president. Many folks in that funny hybrid audience of rock club- and dedicated BAM-goers cheered. After the show, over vodkas and rum at the hopefully-not-soon-to-be-defunct Freddy’s, my friend Taylor, who was also at the show, noted how strange it seems that New York City is once again at a time where folk musicians are playing in larger venues and unapologetically talking politics. I mostly agreed. But more crucially, I think, is that it’s happening here in Brooklyn. (That’s right, where the best restaurants, clubs, and people are– you know where we at.)

“Emily” (from Ys)

The meadowlark and the chim-choo-ree and the sparrow
Set to the sky in a flying spree, for the sport over the pharaoh
A little while later the Pharisees dragged comb through the meadow
Do you remember what they called up to you and me, in our window?

There is a rusty light on the pines tonight
Sun pouring wine, lord, or marrow
Down into the bones of the birches
And the spires of the churches
Jutting out from the shadows
The yoke, and the axe, and the old smokestacks and the bale and the barrow
And everything sloped like it was dragged from a rope
In the mouth of the south below

We’ve seen those mountains kneeling, felten and grey
We thought our very hearts would up and melt away
From that snow in the night time
Just going
And going
And the stirring of wind chimes
In the morning
In the morning
Helps me find my way back in
From the place where I have been

And, Emily – I saw you last night by the river
I dreamed you were skipping little stones across the surface of the water
Frowning at the angle where they were lost, and slipped under forever,
In a mud-cloud, mica-spangled, like the sky’d been breathing on a mirror

Anyhow – I sat by your side, by the water
You taught me the names of the stars overhead that I wrote down in my ledger
Though all I knew of the rote universe were those pleiades loosed in december
I promised you I’d set them to verse so I’d always remember

That the meteorite is a source of the light
And the meteor’s just what we see
And the meteoroid is a stone that’s devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee

And the meteorite’s just what causes the light
And the meteor’s how it’s perceived
And the meteoroid’s a bone thrown from the void that lies quiet in offering to thee

You came and lay a cold compress upon the mess I’m in
Threw the window wide and cried; Amen! Amen! Amen!
The whole world – stopped – to hear you hollering
You looked down and saw now what was happening

The lines are fadin’ in my kingdom
Though I have never known the way to border ’em in
So the muddy mouths of baboons and sows and the grouse and the horse and the hen
Grope at the gate of the looming lake that was once a tidy pen
And the mail is late and the great estates are not lit from within
The talk in town’s becoming downright sickening

In due time we will see the far butte lit by a flare
I’ve seen your bravery, and I will follow you there
And row through the night time
Gone healthy
Gone healthy all of a sudden
In search of the midwife
Who could help me
Who could help me
Help me find my way back in
There are worries where I’ve been

Say, say, say in the lee of the bay; don’t be bothered
Leave your troubles here where the tugboats shear the water from the water
Flanked by furrows, curling back, like a match held up to a newspaper
Emily, they’ll follow your lead by the letter
And I make this claim, and I’m not ashamed to say I know you better
What they’ve seen is just a beam of your sun that banishes winter

Let us go! Though we know it’s a hopeless endeavor
The ties that bind, they are barbed and spined and hold us close forever
Though there is nothing would help me come to grips with a sky that is gaping and yawning
There is a song I woke with on my lips as you sailed your great ship towards the morning

Come on home, the poppies are all grown knee-deep by now
Blossoms all have fallen, and the pollen ruins the plow
Peonies nod in the breeze and while they wetly bow, with
Hydrocephalitic listlessness ants mop up-a their brow

And everything with wings is restless, aimless, drunk and dour
The butterflies and birds collide at hot, ungodly hours
And my clay-colored motherlessness rangily reclines
Come on home, now! All my bones are dolorous with vines

Pa pointed out to me, for the hundredth time tonight
The way the ladle leads to a dirt-red bullet of light
Squint skyward and listen –
Loving him, we move within his borders:
Just asterisms in the stars’ set order

We could stand for a century
Starin’
With our heads cocked
In the broad daylight at this thing
Joy
Landlocked
In bodies that don’t keep
Dumbstruck with the sweetness of being
Till we don’t be
Told; take this
Eat this

Told, the meteorite is the source of the light
And the meteor’s just what we see
And the meteoroid is a stone that’s devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee

And the meteorite’s just what causes the light
And the meteor’s how it’s perceived
And the meteoroid’s a bone thrown from the void that lies quiet in offering to thee

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[…] while back I alluded to a reemergence of folk music in the city, and speculated on what that might mean, in that […]

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