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From Bill Pannifer:
I'd been listening to Wild Things for several months. "Scratchy cocktail rock" one critic called it, but I thought it fresh and concise. In any case I made sure I had good seats for my first (and so far only) Joni appearance, a single, sold-out UK show in the 10,000-seat Wembley Arena.
Joni looks good, stylish--a grey striped jacket, beret, sort of baggy breeches ending at the tops of her boots. She also seems nervous. I'm nervous too, but that's because I'm wielding some rather obvious stereo microphones. "Hello London," she says rather hesitantly. That's OK. I don't want professional confidence from her, don't want her to play the trouper.
Free Man to start. I'm delighted. (I admit it-- first time I walked the Champs Elysees I was singing this out loud!). Also surprised she's hit us with such a crowdpleaser so soon. The sound's not quite there yet, and and the band are still warming up. Throughout the show, unfairly, I have the Shadows and Light versions in my head, but this isn't Weather Report. Something about Vinnie (Vinvin, she calls him) Colaiuta's keyboard work seems a bit lame, and the drums sometimes struggle to catch up. With Cotton Avenue it hits me just how LOUD it is: power chords and mean guitar and rather mushy bass from the speakers. My s.o. winces: she's not a fan, but has a background liking for "campfire Joni"- Circle Game, Taxi, etc.- and she wasn't expecting this assault.
Larry paces about busily, seriously, in tight leather pants. He's holding everyone together, and is also, inevitably, on display: "My husband, Larry Klein." Only with Song for Sharon does everything click into place: a simplified version of the original which lopes along and has time to take hold, while Joni also connects with it vocally, her emphasis building, with dramatic bits of guitar punctuation, to the penultimate verse...then resolving almost defiantly. The acoustic classics get the best response, of course. Carey- a song she says started off negative but lost most of its vinegar as time went by- *is* very scratchy and she laughs it off. "I told you it's been a while!" Then Amelia, with only Michael Landau's spare sustain in place of Metheney's coda, but still a haunting end to the first half.
Second set - with seven songs from the new album- is more fluent, with the band obviously more at home with the material, and Joni more visibly having fun. You're So Square slips back into swing mode at the end. With an obsessive's smugness, I delight in the little lyric changes. Don't Interrupt The Sorrow gets a somewhat grittier makeover. "He had lots of other women--clandestine!"-- and Both Sides Now (inspired by Saul Bellow, she tells us) has turned comprehensively agnostic: "I really don't know...I don't know at all." Only Chinese Cafe fails to work, for me: the musical cleverness needs a studio to bring it off. A minority opinion no doubt!
Woodstock (79-style, thanks) is thrilling. And nothing has prepared me for Marvin Gaye as an encore! I love it. The critics seem to think it presumptuous, a stilted white take on a soul classic. But it works: she's not taking on a tradition, just having fun. "This is a woman who tries to rock in...*plus-fours*" sneers one review, but in general coverage is grudgingly positive--given this is not a friendly time for those who began their careers in the sixties.
I just want her back. The press-only showcase for Turbulent Indigo doesn't count. Joni, it's been thirteen years! Please!
Free Man in Paris
Edith & the Kingpin
Turn Me On (I'm A Radio)
You Dream Flat Tyres
Song for Sharon
God Must be a Boogie Man
Big Yellow Taxi
A Case of You
Wild Things Run Fast
Raised on Robbery
Don't Interrupt the Sorrow
Refuge of the Roads
You're So Square
Both Sides Now
Underneath the Streetlight
Heard It Through The Grapevine