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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

August 5, 2010 at 10:28 AM

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Concert review: Joanna Newsom and Robin Pecknold at The Moore 08/04/10

Posted by Andrew Matson

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One fan gave Joanna Newsom a homemade painting

"I think you know what we're dealing with here," said Joanna Newsom to the Wednesday-night crowd at The Moore, as Robin Pecknold appeared from stage left.

"I don't need to walk you through this."

She did, actually, unless she meant, "You know who this guy is."

The audience might've expected the Fleet Foxes front man and concert opener Pecknold to join harpist/pianist/singer Newsom for real-life versions of bootleg YouTube videos that have gone viral: Newsom's heartbreaking "On a Good Day" and a winking cover of Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow's "Picture."

Instead, Pecknold stood in the back corner of the stage next to the two women he walked out with and clicked drum sticks together during "Good Intentions Paving Company," a pop-oriented single from Newsom's latest album "Have One On Me." The song was one highlight of many in a set of 6-to-10-minute chamber-folk soul suspensions that included an encore performance and standing ovation.

One fan handed Newsom a homemade painting of the artist's name against a Pike Place Market background.

Bumping and rolling through its opening salvo, "Paving Company" unraveled in its second act into an aching ballad that hit emotional points whenever Newsom's soprano voice twinged inward or trombonist Andy Strain sighed through his horn.

The auxiliary percussion ensemble that kicked off "Paving Company" was pretty cool, too, with Newsom's ensemble swollen to 8 people clapping their hands and hitting sticks against various glass bottles. The combined sound was textural and enveloping, one of several instances in the evening where Newsom's predominantly harp- and piano-based music became more deeply rhythmic than it seems on record.

Drummer Neal Morgan maintained the rhythmic bent all night with a subtle touch. A standout player in a sterling group, he tapped the edges of his cymbals, fingered his tambourine, palmed his snare drum, and hit the wood on his toms more often than their skins. Strings and horn were similarly sparingly employed, decorating Newsom's harp and piano according to guitar/mandolin/recorder player Ryan Francesconi's arrangements.

Throughout the evening, Newsom called Pecknold "amazing," "incredible," "unbelievable," and "awe-inspiring," and his smooth, powerful vocals deserved all the praise. Singing and playing guitar sans band, he previewed new songs that could appear on the almost-finished Fleet Foxes sophomore album, strumming through alternative tunings and letting strings drone this way and that, picking out melodies and making his guitar sound like two, sometimes three. He was physically deferential to Newsom on stage for "Paving Company," and when he introduced her band after his opening performance, referred to them as the Harlem Globetrotters.

While the concert didn't yield the Pecknold/Newsom collaboration some fans probably hoped for, it was nonetheless a tale of two voices, each unusually moving, backed by strong and un-showy musicianship.

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Robin Pecknold

Photos by me; check out more courtesy Alex Crick at KEXP's flickr

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