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The Troubadors of Folk Festival — Drake Stadium, UCLA
By Sue McNamara
What becomes a legend most? ... Laurels and the ability to rest on them?
Well, Joni Mitchell's concert appearances have been so rare over the last decade that just her presence on stage with a guitar is enough for this adoring sycophant. Seemingly, Joni's priorities the week before this concert did not include practicing her stable of new tunes from Turbulent Indigo or remembering lyrics from some of her standards (or maybe it was just stage fright) but with characteristic good humor she still delights and entertains.
Joni opens with "Last Chance Lost" which seems to be the most difficult song for her smoke patina-ed voice. Before she even gets through the first verse she stops and says, "I asked some people over there before if it was okay to make mistakes and they said it was fine, so there it was!" She starts again nervously and bravely sings this song about the difficult last days of a relationship.
She introduces the next song as a nursery rhyme and invites the audience to sing along ... "Big Yellow Taxi" ... revamped an octave lower than the original version. Afterwards she says, "So if you are a troubadour you spend a lot of your life on the road and if I dig back into the oldies they all seem to be about going somewhere. This is a song about traveling and talking to a ghost --- Amelia." "Amelia" is slow and deliberate, missing a verse either by choice or forgotten and although there was only one stray pluck Joni jokes at the end, "I promised you those clunkers and I'm going to keep them coming!"
Joni then adds, "I hope you don't mind if I go forward a bit because all last week people kept driving by me in cars shouting out their requests. I get so confused, so I decided to do a lot of new material." Then Joni introduces a new song which she says came from the contrast of philosophers like Krishnamurti and Joseph Campbell calling for a non-divisional world view and how people's attitudes are becoming more divisive. "It seems more and more we draw a line of difference and this is a song about that." In "Borderline" Joni presents a strong and beautiful version showing more power in her voice than any of the previous songs in the set.
Joni aborts the intro to "Turbulent Indigo" once stating, "Wow, it's amazing what you can forget in a short amount of time!" but she masterfully coordinates the complicated strum of the rhythm with the sarcastically brilliant lyrics describing Van Gogh's public vs. private image.
Next is "How Do You Stop," her cover of a James Brown tune. Then "Hejira" starts magically to applause until Joni stops in the middle of the second verse. She starts singing "... We're only particles of change ... wait a minute, that's wrong ... does anybody know what comes next?" I was aghast at the fact that nobody immediately belted out "porous with travel fever, Joni, porous with travel fever!!" like I certainly would have done (she says pompously with the gift of hindsight) but after a full minute of listening hopefully to the equally amnesiatic crowd, the light comes on and she continues, "I'm porous with travel fever, but you know I'm so glad to be on my own ..."
Next she contrasts the lonely travel of "Hejira" with the joyful companionship of "Night Ride Home." Joni says good-bye but gets called back for an encore; "Sunny Sunday," which she describes as a song about a woman waiting for a break.
"That one little victory
That's all she needs ..."
Although not flawless, this concert is the little victory Joni Mitchell needed to start her comeback to live performance.
Last Chance Lost
Big Yellow Taxi
How Do You Stop?
Night Ride Home