Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Joanna Newsom, (Smog), Weird War / Bowery Ballroom / Dec. 18, 2004

I pretty much hate the Christmas season, for the most part, what with all the terrible music and the electricity-wasting lights and the senseless shopping frenzy. But little gems like the “It’s A Wonderful Next Life” Drag City Christmas Party sometimes make it worthwhile. The Bowery Ballroom was decked with wreaths and lights, and Drag City had made up these leaflets explaining how Christmas is really a pagan holiday and rock ‘n’ roll can only be played by African-Americans… or something. It’s very confusing, and involves cartoon drawings of Joanna Newsom, Bill Callahan, and the members of Weird War. Nevertheless, it was quite charming.

The show was a round robin, meaning that the acts rotated after three songs. There were three rounds plus an encore, so everybody did ten songs total. That was just the right amount for (Smog) and Weird War, but I don’t think I would have been satisfied with even twice as much from Joanna. Yup, I’m one of those people—I worship her little elf ears and kiss the ground her fringed suede boots walk on. This was my second time seeing her (the first being that amazing tour with Devendra Banhart and Vetiver earlier this year), and I still can’t believe THAT voice comes out of THAT body. And those fingers! I feel like I’ve got ten big toes attached to my hands when I look at her. Joanna modeled the latest in forest nymph chic, changing outfits and hairstyles with every round. She played a good amount of songs that aren’t on The Milk-Eyed Mender, but, alas, no “Three Little Babies.” (My skin is still recovering from the goosebumps that one gave me at the last show.) The stage was completely dark except for an amber spotlight that shone on her and the harp.

At one point, Joanna paused to thank Drag City for being so good to her this year. No, honey, you’ve got it all wrong. They need you more than you need them. Didn’t you notice how half the crowd went down to the basement bar when you weren’t on stage?

I was excited for Weird War, since I’ve never seen Ian Svenonius live, and he’s a legend and everything, and supposed to be an electrifying performer, right? Well, he’s still got mad charisma, but the glory days have passed him by. He’s sort of a parody of himself now, doing that whole “political” white soul brother shtick to death. I predict: one day, Ian Svenonius and Jon Spencer will be touring casinos and county fairs together.

Bill Callahan did his solo acoustic (Smog) thing, bathed in that same amber glow. His voice is so lulling and soporific to begin with… and the sound at the Bowery is always crystal-clear… and I’d just been through a week of holiday parties…. and….zzz.