Joni Mitchell: Playhouse, Edinburgh

by Bob Flynn

April 20, 1983

"We can't return, we can only look from behind from where we came." - "The Circle Game", Joni Mitchell

WHAT did we expect? The Dalai Lama wheeled out into the spotlight to receive the pilgrims?

What did we get? The ethereal Californian came to face us in the flesh, summer freckles fading in the bitter Scottish rain. A harder stance, a stab at being raunchy; a skeletal blonde with a guitar strapped on, a small jazz-rock band, a look of youth despite the years and an occasional smile - like a shield.

You can count them on one hand - those who defined the traumas and contours of love in songs and dared to try and commit poetry on the face of rock. She's done more for the ascent of women in modern songwriting than any other, savage with ideas expressed in lyrics like vipers. Vital statistics didn't matter anymore. Then I thought we'd lost her sparse but devastating stories to the shapes of jazz, but here she is, playing "Free Man in Paris", back in the circle game.

She casts a sublime line of old spells traced in an impossibly perfect voice. From"Coyote" right back to "Big Yellow Taxi" and the jazzing boogie of "Raised On Robbery", even the obligatory Great American Heavy Guitar couldn't detract from the wit and poise of the song. The louder the band became, the shallower the effect.

Half the time she is left achingly alone, coaxing notes from a warped blue guitar and walking on hearts. With "A Case of You" - one of the most moving declarations of doubtful love I've ever heard, the cadence and purity of the lone vocal eaves haunting aftertones.

Her heart is revealed but masked by a face of elongated ice, picking the scabs on the tanned shoulders of California. The hurt has rarely been so softly but strongly expressed.

The songs became an elegy for a more hopeful time and intimations of an ideal world forever lost. She explores all of her territories - folk, rock, jazz - with a constant enquiry into the nature of romantic loss, knowing that romance is only perfect when safe in the memory. Her cool leaves her stangely disembodied. A glass of chilled wine that warms when drunk.

She is a medium, a party pooper, a wall-flower with a craze for jazz, striking glances in the corner, passing people through her soul. She exposes her innermost feelings to the world, yet wants to remain as alone as Garbo. This is the dilemma that makes her performances special.

The new "Chinese Cafe" explores the feelings of people confused by the age that has come upon them since the days of demonstations and those times are remembered in the closing songs. "Woodstock", styled to a bluesy strum and pick, once optimistic now a turning over of old, cold bones - a funeral march. Before, "Both Sides Now" she tells us that she is old enough to sing it properly then breaks off leaving the last line lingering.

After all these years threaded with songs of awesome insight and confused confessionals, she represents the final admission - "It's love's illusion I recall/I really don't know love at all." She God must be boogie woman.

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