Joni Mitchell shows she’s still free spirit

by Jim McFarlin
Detroit News
July 6, 1983

If you’ve reached the age where your mother’s wild assertion that she feels exactly the same as she did 20 years ago is beginning to make sense, you can fully appreciate Joni Mitchell.

As the feathery former Detroit folkie (she knocked about local lounges for years with her ex husband Chuck) nears 40, it becomes essential to separate Joni’s looks – dispassionate, world weary, cloaked in black like some fashion conscious Hare Krishna – from Joni’s sound – spicy, eternal, still able to transport a listener with the turn of a lyric.

She’s fighting time, not biding it. She even has apparently decided one is never too old to rock and roll. Those who came to see her Monday night at Pine Knob Music Theatre, though they barely filled half the arena, seemed to understand.

They were all devoted fans, one and all. And though they may have gotten slightly more than they bargained for in Joni’s Wild Things tour, the 110 minute performance touched off the best kind of fireworks once can hope for on a wet and cool fourth of July evening: the emotional kind.

The concert was louder than one might ever expect from Joni Mitchell and laced with the decided rock edge of her latest album Wild Things Run Fast, the star never out of arm’s reach from an electric guitar. She surrounded herself with a terse, blustery quartet called Refuge, led by new hubby Larry Klein on bass. Their music gave wide berth to Michael Landau’s wailing, incongruous guitar and Vinnie Colaiuta’s propulsive drums, tinged with Russell Ferante’s keyboards.

While Ms Mitchell occasionally flowed to dulcimer or solo piano and breathed surprising new life into old standards Big Yellow Taxi, God Must Be a Boogie Man and Help Me – playfully updating the lyrics, such as in a reference to MTV in one of the night’s transcendent songs, For Free – it was a night for amplified intensity and tough new directions. She stated her case admirably: By the midpoint of her arresting Chinese Café she had the audience whooping on its feet.

Consistently providing in enthusiasm what it lacked in size, the audience virtually shanghaied her into two encores with delirious gales of applause.

Joni Mitchell left Pine Knob as she entered it, a free spirit, filled with the freedom that only comes with the perspective of age. She was playing real good, her wild things running fast and free and glowing warm radiant heat.

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