Joni Mitchell, an attractive young Canadian who is the latest darling of the folk music set, made her Bay Area debut last night in Zellerbach Auditorium on the U.C. Berkeley campus.
The concert, second in a student-sponsored series, attracted an audience that overflowed the beautiful new 2100-seat hall. Principally college and high school pupils, to judge from their appearance and the slobbish actions of some, they applauded Miss Mitchell's heralded "poetic portraits" from beginning to end.
Perhaps the fact she is young and mediocre as a singer and guitarist contributed to this reception. I have a theory that such performers capture an audience by communicating the thought, "Gee, I could do that myself."
Her songs, most of which she wrote and a good many recorded by other artisans in her field, evidence a cliché-ridden, juvenile quality in their lyrics. Instrumentally however, some of Miss Mitchell's numbers are notable for out-of-the-ordinary employment of tone and meter, as in "Night of the Hunter" and "Marcy" (if that's the title). But, except for a few antiwar and lost-love pieces, which often were marred by vapid imagery, Miss Mitchell's program seemed pale and unconvincing.
As an example, "Nathan LaFrancier," supposedly a comment on New York cab drivers (plus references to the city's "canyons" and "chrome") could be taken as an anti-tipping diatribe, though I am sure it was not intended as such.
To judge from the audience she attracted and the fact she has a record contract Miss Mitchell is, as they say, real big. But if she wants to make it as an artist she would be well advised to develop her sense of pitch, her voice control, and enunciation.
She has some things going for her besides her looks. These include her rhythmic guitar playing and her occasional, effective use of sustained tones with a strong vibrato, that approximate the feedback effect produced by a superior electronic guitarist.
But then there are the off-key notes, the mumbled words, the choked, guttural transitions from alto to soprano.
It seems, however, that such lapses no longer seem to matter.
Besides the star, last night's program also included an opening set by The Lamb, a Bay Area folk trio.