Joanna Newsom, Robin Pecknold at The Royal Concert Hall, 2/3/16

There’s very few people in this room that won’t leave awestruck by Joanna Newsom, not least support act Robin Pecknold, who claims to have done so every night of this tour.

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“The greatest songwriter of our generation; no question,” quips the Fleet Foxes frontman, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in this room that disagrees.

Pecknold cuts quite a lonely figure, alone, seated in the centre of the huge Concert Hall stage, but soon his warm, fireside tones ease you into a place of comfort that many forget his former band possessed after they grew in popularity.

There’s a reserved silence between songs from a polite and willing to be delighted audience, with the only sound coming from those still entering the gorgeous sounding venue, and Pecknold is more than deserving of this respect as he plays some new material along with those of his band.

Fleet Foxes tracks, like ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant’, may miss the harmonies of the full band, but they still feel as warm and heartfelt as they ever did in that format, you could say it strips away the commercial gleam and shows the music for what it is; strong, charming songs from a very talented songwriter.

Tonight Joanna Newsom plays for two hours, and it’s testament to her quality that every moment of that is savoured by a reviewer that usually doesn’t have the patience for sets that clock in past the hour mark.

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Things start off with Newsom centre stage with her harp, surrounded by her four-piece band, and as ‘Bridges and Balloons’, from 2004’s The Milk Eyed-Mender, starts off with just her voice and harp we are quickly reminded of her glowing qualities, even before backing vocals and touches of guitar add notes of warmth to this buoyant thing of beauty.

Newsom switches to piano for new album track ‘Anecdotes’, before introducing her multi multi instrumental band, and her gratitude to them is fully justified even if it is her gobsmacking creations they are putting together.

Her band may well be one of the most diverse instrumentally that I have witnessed, yet it is testament to Newsom’s talents that when she takes to proceeding by herself, with her quirky, high notes, other worldly lyrics and just harp or piano, she shines just as bright.

When she chats to the crowd she comes across as likable, indulging in a Q+A session as she tunes her harp towards the end of the set, as she takes questions from an at first shy audience with incredible warmth and humour, before amusingly cutting things off at “do you and Andy write songs together?”

Just under half of her 15-song set comes from her latest album, Divers, and those new tracks stand beside the old seamlessly; the album may have got some criticism from some corners for being her most translatable work to date, but the album itself is still full of the complexities and wondrous concepts that Newsom is so great at.

Divers may have given Newsom her first foray into music video, something she amusingly comments “got to write more hits” too during the Q+A, but it’s a clear progression from her previous work, something which is demonstrated by how perfectly tonight set flows.

The last time she was in Scotland was in 2010 and as she describes leaving seeing a topless man in the rain screaming “Scotland rules” before confidently adding “and I agree,” after an invigorating performance of ‘Good Intentions Pavings Company’, reminding us how wonderful an individual she is before a solo performance of ‘A Light-Light Bent’ leads us into an encore of the wondrous nine-and-a-half-minute epic of ‘Baby Birch’.

Joanna Newsom really is the greatest songwriter of our generation, but don’t just take my word for it.

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Words: Iain Dawson
Photos: Derek Robertson

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