I've been fortunate enough to see Joni Mitchell in concert six and a quarter times, with the highlight being 9th row at the Red Rocks Amphitheater for the Shadows and Light tour and the low light being a rained out show after just a few songs at Alpine Valley, WI. Seeing Joni perform live was always a magical experience, for she not only had such an amazing catalogue of music to pull from, but she was always looking for fresh ways to reinterpret it.
However, "the years spin by and now" Joni's touring days are clearly over. Fortunately for her fans, there are great musicians out there who are dedicated to keeping her music alive. In the past 6 months, I've seen two such performances in the Chicago area. The first was by a collective of musicians that go by the name of Great Moments in Vinyl, who did an astounding job recreating Court and Spark (their version of Down to You took my breath away). Most recently I saw a group of local musicians that went by the name of Every Shiny Thing. The show took place at SPACE, a small concert hall in Evanston, IL, and the band even made the effort to place some Joni appropriate decorations on the tables (cut out paper stars with snippets of Joni lyrics written on them).
The band consisted of multi-instrumentalist Andrea Bunch on guitar and keyboards, Randy Morris on guitar, Greg Nergaard on bass, Janet Cramer on drums, and a small horn section (John Bowes, Jack Cassidy, and Jim Barbick), who all did a fine job, though I thought the electric guitar was a little loud at times and occasionally over powered the vocals (Note: I was sitting directly in front of Randy, so that might have had some effect on what I was hearing). As for the vocals, in my opinion, the true star of this show was the trio of vocalists made up of Andrea Bunch (lead vocals), Emily Thompson and Ashley Kushner. Their three-part harmonies were really something special and brought some unique spins to several of the songs, most notably their version of Black Crow (versions of which can be found on (versions of which can be found on YouTube)). A special shout out must also go to their guitar technician George Perdziak. Over the course of the evening, there were 25 guitar changes incorporating 15 different tunings.
Their show consisted of two sets and focused primarily on songs from Blue through Hejira. It was especially nice to hear a couple of songs from the often-overlooked Hissing of Summer Lawns album. Some of the songs were faithful recreations of the originals while others took a more interpretive approach. It was the songs in this later group that stood out the most for me. Probably the biggest wow moment of the night was their rendition of River, which concluded with Andrea just playing the piano alongside a recording of Joanna Macy talking about the cosmos. It was a very unexpected and moving ending to the song. Other highlights were their beautiful versions of Amelia, Blue Motel Room, and their final song of the night, Circle Game, complete with "out of tune singing" from the audience.
I have several friends who think tribute bands/concerts are unworthy of their time and money, even when the original artist is no longer performing. I've never really understood this bias and based upon the standing room only crowd and their very enthusiastic response to this show, it is clear I'm not the only one who has an appetite for these types of shows. Let's hope talented musicians like these remain dedicated to keeping great music alive (and live!). There is no better way to enjoy music than in the communal environment of a live show, and no catalogue more deserving than Joni's.
All I Want
In France They Kiss on Main Street
Car on a Hill
Court and Spark
Both Sides Now
Blue Motel Room
Just Like This Train
Raised on Robbery
Help Me Black Crow
Free Man in Paris
You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio
Hissing of Summer Lawns
Big Yellow Taxi
Case of You
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