A harp on stage, seats on the floor, hipsters trying too hard, a performer who admitted to drinking a beer before the show for the first time and folks almost passing out ... let's just say that Wednesday night at Toad's Place was an unusual experience.
I know that the venue doesn't have the greatest reputation with checking IDs, what with it being forced to shut down for 90 days this summer and all. And I know that the owner is trying hard to correct that. But here's thing, when someone passes out at your venue, and someone alerts a security guard, that employee has to either get medical attention, or boot the concertgoer. You can't just bring him water and let him sit on the grimy floor for 30 minutes.
We all know the Dodge Music Center isn't the best at enforcing the 21+ liquor law either, but if they see anyone looking too inebriated, that person is immediately brought to the medic station. This kid in front of me basically just collapsed. It was not pretty. He should not have been allowed to continue watching the show so tanked. Who knows what could have happened?
Onto the musical portion of this entry. Toad's did the wise thing of putting seats in the venue (the first time I've seen this) for this Joanna Newsom show. Her restrained freak-folk, highlighted by her harp playing, is perfect for a small theater, which is the type of place she's performing at during the rest of this tour. I imagine the show would have been much better if I got there early enough to sit.
Coming on stage by herself, Newsom opened the gig solo, strumming two tunes from 2004's "The Milk-Eyed Wonder" and then a traditional Scottish hymn. After finishing, her five-piece backing band came on stage and the group performed the five-song, 55-minute "Ys" (which just came out Tuesday) in its entirety.
All in all, this was a good show, if slightly anticlimactic. Newsom's eclectic and nuanced arrangements along with her Romance-era poetic lyrics don't play too well in a rock club, where it's best to hear some loud crunchy guitars while sipping on an over-priced P.B.R. When you're hearing banjos, accordions and tamburas, all powered by a harp, you're liable to believe you're at Sprague Hall, not Toad's, where folks like The Rolling Stones have surprise shows and pure rock 'n' roll rules.
But Newsom's performance kept everyone's attention, and her stark and gentle adaptations of Van Dyke Park's gorgeous arrangements from the studio version of "Ys" sounded great. It's very possible that many fans in attendance who love "The Milk-Eyed Wonder" more than "Ys" thought this restrained performance of the new record was better than the album version.
Overall, even if you didn't like the show, all the weirdness made it worth it. The chairs, the harp, the guys with homemade T-shirts who are trying too hard to look like Bright Eyes, folks drunk at a harp concert!, and, of course, the performer all added an extra oomph to the night.