Pedaling up to the Aladdin Theater in Portland, Ore., last Friday evening, a long line of tattooed, sundress-clad ladies and bespectacled lads in cut-off shorts snaked around the building. Judging by the looks of the feverish crowd, you wouldn’t have guessed they were waiting to hear a shrill folk songbird play the harp delicately for hours.
Folk chanteuse Joanna Newsom and opener Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes, completely sold out shows on both Friday and Saturday nights in the Rose City. Though she likely could have filled a larger space, Newsom's meandering tunes were a perfect match for the intimate Aladdin Theater, an old, 600-ish capacity seated venue.
Pecknold, who isn’t known for being particularly chatty on stage, seemed more comfortable as a performer than when Fleet Foxes rolled through Boise in 2008, pausing once to respond to a heckler that his favorite color is “Uh, red.” The bearded and sweatered Pecknold played seated for the entirety of his set, switching out various acoustic guitars and crooning a number of new Fleet Foxes-reminiscent tunes, his signature pipes echoing through the concert hall. Though a number of folks were hoping that Pecknold would join Newsom for a cover of the Kid Rock/Sheryl Crow duet "Picture,” like he did a few days prior, the two, sadly, didn’t grace the stage together.
Newsom, decked out in a perfectly form-fitting, strappy jade-green dress, took a seat alone on stage alone for her first song, “81,” a lovely track off her new three-disc album Have One On Me. For the rest of her set, which included a number of new songs, as well as a few Milk-Eyed Mender favorites like “Inflammatory Writ” and “Peach, Plum, Pear,” Newsom switched between piano and harp, joined by the gracefully deliberate percussionist Neal Morgan, guitarist and mandolin-player Ryan Francesconi, a trombonist and two violin players.
Though most of Newsom’s newer tunes hover in the 7-10 minute range, she managed to keep the crowd enthralled, conjuring up charming earthly tales and receiving enthusiastic applause after each song.
Here is Newsom playing one of my favorite tracks off her 2006 album Ys, “Cosmia." Sadly, the video shuts off mid-song, when the bouncer politely asked me to stop filming. Oh, well.