There were a definite number of puzzled faces in Constitution Hall last night when Joni Mitchell closed her performance with a raucous version of "Raised On Robbery," her current hit.
This old folkie may have been strumming an acoustic guitar, but the band behind her was churning out boogie-woogie fast and furious, replete with a honking tenor sax.
This was the new Joni Mitchell in concert, the Joni Mitchell perhaps living out the fantasies she had written about in so many of her songs; the myth of playing in a rock 'n' roll band.
Mitchell sold out Constitution Hall several weeks before her appearance, something she is doing around the country on this concert tour. And did on her last tour two years ago. Obviously she is speaking to a lot of people out there.
Her performance last night began as it ended with the L.A. Express, the five piece back-up ensemble, all but outblaring her. At one point, after she had played several numbers with just her guitar, and the band had returned, one fellow in the audience screamed out, "You don't need no band."
"Yeah, but they're great, and it's so much fun," she replied.
It may be fun, but for much of the evening it wasn't terribly considerate of the audience. They had come to hear her -- some of them bringing flowers, and she stuck one red rose behind her ear, nicely complementing teh two old beaded backless evening gowns she wore -- but while the band was playing, it was often impossible to hear the vocals, not to mention painful. And the band itself played oh-so-slickly, so devoid of emotion, that one fan was prompted to comment, "This is like Laura Nyro doing a guest set with Duke Ellington."
The performance last night, as well as Mitchell's new album "Court and Spark," revealed the songwriter to be heading further in the direction of the True Confessions style songs, that started on her "Ladies of the Canyon" album. It's material that recounts loves won and loves lost, often sung in a style that crams lyrics into any sort of melody they'll fit, as on this, from her "Blue" LP, which she performed last night:
Just before out love got lost you said,
"I am as constant as a northern star."
And I said, "Constantly in the darkness
Where's that at?
If you want me I'll be in the bar."
On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
With your face sketched on it twice.
Oh, you are in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling
And I would still be on my feet
("A Case Of You" (C)1971 Siquomb Music)
Ideally, art transforms personal experiences into something universally appreciated, but more and more frequently Mitchell's songs mirror the personal conflicts of her California lifestyle. It gets to the point where lyrics don't seem to adjust themselves to anyone's lifestyle but hers, except on a few songs, like "For Free," which deals with the tensino in any artist's life between paid performances and spontaneous free creation.
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