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Monday, November 13, 2006

Joanna Newsom, Mongol hordes overtake Beachland

Posted By on Mon, Nov 13, 2006 at 1:36 PM

For Cleveland's indie nation, Joanna Newsom's Friday-night gig at the Beachland Ballroom upstaged anything else going down around town that evening. Before a sold-out audience, the California folk singer and harpist delivered a charming show. After warming up with a handful of chestnuts off her debut, Newsom invited her six-piece orchestra onstage and unleashed her new disc, Ys, in its entirety. Consisting of five songs totaling nearly 60 minutes, Ys not only ignores every cardinal rule regarding listeners' limited attention spans, but its ornately structured compositions and fantastical storytelling demand that the audience exercise silence and concentration -- activities which the consumption of beer generally do not promote. Thus, the concert unfolded like one of those simulated live recordings that Merle Haggard used to release -- drunken chatter and the sound of kicked bottles competing with the band. A couple of beefy Waterloo cops even strolled through the crowd. What the hell were they doing? Quelling a brawl between skinny little hipster-folkies who violently disagreed over the sextet's use of mandolin? Of course, the critics love rambling on and on and on about Newsom's unique singing voice, but her angelic frog-croak sounds downright average compared to Chirlgilchin, a quartet of Tuvan throatsingers that blew the minds off a crowd of aging hippies at its Sunday-night show in the ballroom's little sister, the Beachland Tavern. Tuva, for the uninitiated, is an isolated little region of Mongolia that over the centuries has developed a unique brand of folk music. As documented in the 1999 documentary Genghis Blues, a Tuvan vocalist busts a tune usually about horses, girls, family, herding, or horses (Tuvans love their horses), while a small ensemble jams these exotic stringed instruments, making like the central Asian equivalent of an old timey Appalachian act. Then it gets weird; halfway through a song, the singer transforms his/her voice into what sounds like two or three separate instruments: two droning synthesizers (one low, one riding the middle) and a high, laser-guided flute. Whereas Western crooners can deliver only a single note at a time, these cats drop two to three notes simultaneously. Welcome to the world of Tuvan throatsinging. And dressed in traditional robes made of a richly textured brocade, these four stately Mongolians did exactly that, even as one drunken buffoon gave Chirlgilchin a real Rust Belt reception: a wild flurry of PBR-inspired whoops 'n' hollers. Where did that guy think he was? A Joanna Newsom concert? -- Justin Farrar

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