Live Review: Joanna Newsom

22 January 2016 | 3:10 pm | Shannon Andreucci

"As a severe thunderstorm ensued outside, the sheltered and attentive audience was swept away on an odyssey of modern psych-folk."

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Joanna Newsom plucked at her ornate golden harp and our heartstrings last night at the Opera House. On our soil for the third time — as part of Sydney Festival this year — the celebrated American singer-songwriter was welcomed on stage with warm appraisal.

As a severe thunderstorm ensued outside, the sheltered and attentive audience was swept away on an odyssey of modern psych-folk, a movement of which Newsom has become a prominent figure. Performing a string of alt-world odes to pin-drop silence, predominantly from her latest offering Divers, she seamlessly constructed a universe of her own that transcended genres and left you feeling unsure of, but pacified with, what you had just witnessed.

Accompanied by a troupe of multi-instrumentalists, including her brother Pete Newsom, she navigated through her catalogue with precision, bouncing from pedal harp to grand piano and keys. The intricate arrangements that make up her eccentric repertoire became even more conspicuous in a live setting, as the musicians continually rotated from violin to banjo to drum duty — at times even mid-song. So often was this game of musical chairs played that some members even visibly forgot where they were meant to be. Though distracting, the complexity of the concert was certainly impressive.

But it was Newsom's prowess with the majestic harp that took most breaths away. The way she fiercely manoeuvred the strings, with eyes wide open and her head nodding back and forth in entrancing motion, all the while enunciating those literary lyrics with her sprawling, operatic vocals was... well, breath-taking.

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And when the grandeur of her idiosyncratic music wasn't hypnotising you, as evident in the reception to highlights Have One On Me and Sapokanikan, her elfish stage presence and rambling, self-deprecating banter broke down the invisible walls and made you feel at home. The feeling appeared mutual, as Joanna Newsom was reeled back onto the iconic stage with a standing ovation for an encore of Go Long and Baby Birch, after stirring the audience with her most rock'n'roll song: Leaving The City.