Friday, August 6, 2010

Harping On

There is something so ironically aggressive about the harp. The playing - plucking and hammering and coaxing - looks incredibly violent, but its icy sounds are sweet and precise.

I saw Joanna Newsom at the Moore Wednesday night. It was my first trip to the Moore, a much narrower theatre than the Paramount, close to Pike Place Market and the docks. From where we sat on the steep balcony, the inside, blue-lit, looked like an underwater opera house. I have never seen so many hipsters in one place. They were all there: any Seattleite with skinny jeans, large-rimmed glasses, overgrown muttonchops or pencil mustaches (Eric called the style Goddard-esque after the 60’s French director), mussed and braided hair, and floral dresses, standing with the awkward, graceful stork posture so beloved by earnest Wes Anderson-watching, Jack Kerouac-reading, cigarette-smoking hipsters everywhere.

And they flocked for good reason. It was exquisite. Robin Pecknold from the Fleet Foxes opened for Newsom, and if his continuous exchange of guitars and constant mumbling apologies were deterring, they were compensated by his emotional generosity, ringing upper register and surprising melodic turns.

Newsom came onstage to thunderous applause and whistles, a tiny thing in a cotton baby doll dress, with a wave of blond hair she tosses when she moves, making her look like the personification of spring in the Firebird section of Fantastia 2000.

The harp charmed; it’s easy to see why ancient Greeks warned musicians to avoid certain scales which provoked certain temperaments and emotional states. We were all happily put under its spell.

She was accompanied by five musicians, all of whom sang: a percussionist wearing a suit but no socks or shoes, a trombonist, two violinists, and a recorder/guitar/oud player. Thinking she would only play from her new album, Have One on Me (she opened with the luxurious and light Easy), we were rewarded with Cosmia and Emily from Ys, skillfully re-arranged for the mini-chamber group, with the trombone replacing most of the lower instruments and sounding convincingly at one point like an oboe.

It was during Emily that the side door on the balcony was opened, and the breeze wafted in with the strings. And very faintly, underneath her marvelous wide voice, the sound of seagulls.

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