There was art in the air. Everybody was wearing woollen sweaters and scarves or hats or drapes they had ripped down to sew a gown. The first act of the evening was Slowblow, a band who personifies the word arty.
Slowblow started off with some string-arranged mood music that could have been a soundtrack to a French silent movie. In the next song, drums and keyboards were added, giving it a more modern feel. There were sound problems and big bangs, though certainly no universe was being born. The whole show was redundant. I wrote down notes Dreamy-Naive-Arty-Arty Farty-Redundant-Background-Elevator music. I thought to myself “Is this it?” Maybe I was annoyed just seeing heads in front of me. I loved Slowblow when they warmed up for Blonde Redhead, but now they were like a beautiful girl who has no character, nothing to say, nothing to offer but beauty, so when you get to know her she looks ugly to you, though undoubtedly she could win a beauty pageant.
When walking to the concert I’d met a friend of my brother and he said he was just there to see Bill Callahan. I said, “Yes, of course,” not having any idea who Bill Callahan was. I later found out that Bill Callahan, known in the music business as Smog, has it as his profession to date up-and-coming female singers. He used to be the boyfriend of Chan Marshall (better known as Cat Power). His latest prey is sweet and innocent Joanna Newsom. All kidding aside, Smog is more famous than Joanna Newsom, and he has been a major influence on the alt-country scene.
So it was an act of chivalry that he opened for his lesser-known, entirely more beautiful girlfriend. Smog started to play and was very melodic, had such character in his voice, a cross between Nick Cave and Johnny Cash. I was immediately hooked on his simplistic strumming and excellent lyrics. People almost fell asleep watching Smog, but I liked him. Sure he was a dirty old man, but I could have listened to Smog play the two chords over and over and humming all night.
People were getting quite comfortable and Bill shouted “whoo” with a high-pitched voice reminding us that sometimes you have to be shouted at to fully appreciate life’s greatest joys. The high point of the Smog show was when he played the witty “Dress Sexy at My Funeral,” because he knows his wife will be at least 30 years younger when he dies.
At this point Joanna walked in. I had seen her once before at Roskilde and didn’t like her. Didn’t even see the whole concert. To me Joanna sounded like Janice from Friends. She has a voice that can be found somewhere between a little girl and a siren. She started playing and didn’t lack rhythm, unlike most harp players. As for her voice, even that helped me get trapped in a fairytale that I didn’t want to leave.
I was lost in Joanna’s wonderland, and her voice, once annoying to me, was now as necessary as air or bacon. Only Fiona Apple has made me cry listening to an emotional climax in music. Tonight, she was joined by Joanna Newsom.
God is said to have loved King David more than other men for he played the harp so beautifully. I bet you God is in love with Joanna Newsom. Her music is pure expression, and in the end I was convinced she is not human. She lives in the stars, takes walks on the moon and gives the sun life. And you think these are metaphors. I speak what I see, and what I saw was beyond divine. Her voice is one of the most versatile instruments in the world. I just had to put down my pen and absorb every element of her performance. I was in love. Damn Bill Callahan.
After the concert I talked to Joanna. She looked only seventeen. It was hard to imagine that this was the same girl that once spit at a fan who was yelling at her during a show. But that just made her all the more unique. We had a moment when she looked deep into my eyes, but Bill, the dirty old man, wasn’t far away.