ST. LOUIS: In the age of love beads and flowers, Joni Mitchell was the composer, Collins and Baez the singers. A decade later it seems that little has changed, if one is to judge from Joni Mitchell's stony recital at Kiel Auditorium's Convention Hall.
The evening began on the same dead note on which it ended, for she was preceded on stage by the L.A. Express minus Tom Scott, who has taken his leave. Evidently Scott's departure has severely damaged the band's esprit de corps, for their set was dreadfully wet. Sax man David Luell may resemble Scott physically, but as a musician he doesn't come close.
Drummer John Guerin, a.k.a. Mitchell's boyfriend (at last count), has taken over as spokesman for the group and seemed to be attempting to do the same in the musical area. However, Guerin's delayed-action style is too slow to make him all that interesting, and certainly disqualifies him as a good Krupa rip-off, the end to which he seems to be aspiring. Bassist Max Bennett and keyboardist Victor Feldman (replacing Larry Nash) were no help either; leaving guitarist Robben Ford as the only member really putting out. Despite a few misplaced notes, Ford added enough flash to save the set from becoming a complete waste of time.
Mitchell opened with an acceptable rendering of "Help Me" but the remainder of her concert was mostly cold. When the band joined her midway through the show, during the title song from her new album, "The Hissing Of Summer Lawns," they added a little life, again thanks to Robben Ford. The accent there is on "little," however. Joni made only the barest acknowledgement of her audience and as a result of this monotonous format, one began to notice the sameness of her songs. The repetition of imagery and note progressions grew more and more boring---until people actually began falling asleep. And walking out.
While Mitchell's voice had the fullness and ringing purity that have developed with the years of professional use, it was about as expressive as a telephone dial tone. Even her expertise on acoustic guitar and piano could not dispel the prevailing stiffness.
Oddly, a "brand new song"---an acoustic piece which had "talk to me" as the most often-repeated lyric---was the best sound of the evening. During it, she regained some of the feeling and engaging whistfulness she has exhibited in the past. "In France They Kiss On The Main Street," from her new album, was almost as well done, and constituted the band's finest moment. But these were only fleeting instances, for her voice never really found its way through the maze of her own lyrics, illuminating though they be.