When buzzy indie songstress Joanna Newsom hit the stage of The Ritz Ybor this past Tuesday night in her ruby-red lipstick and strappy black heels, I wasn't quite sure what to expect and braced myself for the unknown. [All photos by Mike Wilson.]
Newsom began her performance with "The Book of Right-On," deftly plucking harp strings and singing in her one-of-a-kind side-mouth delivery and baby girlish timbre, high and teeth-hurting sweet. The song set the stage for what would occur through the night: folky, extended tunes featuring nature imagery like storm clouds and meteoroids.
Newsom was supported by a drummer and banjo player, but brought two violinists and a trombone player to the stage for "Have One On Me," a mix of musicians that allowed for a consistently faithful reproduction of her lush, nearly 11-minute-long composition. Unfortunately, the Ritz's standing room-only set-up that night wasn't really ideal for Newsom's sort of intricate, orchestral songwriting, which would have been better appreciated in a more formal setting from a seated position.
And it seems like the rest of the crowd was with me, most people standing stiff and immobile for the entire performance save for a few remotely-danceable moments. This isn't to say that they didn't seem to be enjoying themselves. The beginning of "Easy" shook the audience awake and got them cheering Newsom on as she played piano while multi-instrumentalist Ryan Francesconi strummed his caramel electric guitar.
"Cosmia" and "Emily" were my personal favorites, both from Newsom's album I know best, 2006's award-winning Ys. The songs dipped and dived through multiple arrangements and musical styles, and made for a pleasingly hypnotic effect.