Joanna Newsom @ Colston Hall, Bristol, 02/11/15

Joanna NewsomeFive long years in the waiting, the release of Divers marked a sweet release for Joanna Newsom fans. Though many were still processing the unfathomable grandeur of 2010's Have One On Me (sprawled across a three-disc format more befitting a Final Fantasy saga than a folk album), the scarcity of live shows only added to the artist's mythical status. If there's any concern about tonight's performance, it's that of living up to her critical beatification.

Certainly a warm reception greets opener "Bridges and Balloons", pulled from her mercurial debut, though tonight's real noise is reserved for the swathe cut through her later epics. The title track from her latest effort begins the marathon, though, at around 7 minutes, it is still a relatively sprightly affair. "Emily" is an absolute revelation, showcasing not only the ample musicianship of her live band, but the jaw-dropping quality of her lyrics. The words (all 852 of them here) are dazzling enough on their own, but Newsom's talent for prosodic phrasing has a way of wringing the joy out of each one. "We've seen those mountains kneeling, felten and grey," she sings, and as an ascending violin line scales such heights that it sounds as though it could disappear on the breeze at any moment: "We thought our very hearts would up and melt away..." It's the kind of moment, wrapped up in a thousand other tiny moments, that catches the breath. "Have One On Me" has a similar effect, a tale of abuse wrapped up in her trademark unions of the cosmic and the mundane ("I saw a star fall into the sky, like a chunk of thrown coal, as if god himself spat like a cornered rat"), its 11 minutes vanishing in a giddy jaunt around tempos and time signatures.

Later in the evening we are treated to "Leaving the City", where the surprise of a tight drum beat arriving for an almost-rapped chorus produced one of Divers' most immediately thrilling moments. The effect is dampened tonight by the rather more splashy quality of the live drums, though Newsom's harp is more impressive than ever, and easily carries the piece. By the time we reach a sumptuous "Time, As a Symptom", the audience are putty in her hands, and she departs to her first standing ovation of the evening. Returning for an encore, the night finally draws to a close with early favourite "Peach, Plum, Pear", and before long the audience are on their feet again, hands in the air, dewy-eyed and rapturous at the altar of St. Joanna.

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  1. Joanna Newsom @ Colston Hall, Bristol, 02/11/15 | Loud and Bright - 25/02/2016

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