Joni Mitchell made her first Canadian appearance since the 1970 Mariposa Festival at Massey Hall this weekend. In her words, she brought along "a few new songs and a cold" for the occasion. The cold was more interesting.
The sold-out house treated the concert as a great homecoming, as audiences always receive Joni in Toronto. Joni, despite her emigration to California's Laurel Canyon, is still regarded as a Canadian, a one-time resident of Toronto's Yorkville district.
Neil Young is held in much the same nationalistic esteem, although no one can really remember the last time either Young or Mitchell inquired about the state of affairs back home.
Nonetheless Joni Mitchell is a very special person here.
Acoustic concerts in Toronto, perhaps anywhere, are sad affairs -- not because of the performers but the audiences. It seems that acoustic fans have never really recovered from the snob effect they cultivated during the folk boom of the last decade.
Rather than coming to sit and enjoy a concert, they come to supplicate and grovel.
So it was for Joni. The audience applauded every song -- at the beginning, competing to see who could claim to recognise a melody first.
When Joni blew her nose -- that's all, simply blew her nose -- the hall went into hysterical laughter. And the crowd hung on her every word, despite those words being primarily "like" and "you know."
The truth of the matter is that, while Joni has been the source of some interesting compositions in the past, her performing ability is over-rated. Her voice, which is almost worshipped for its pure, glacial quality, is totally devoid of emotion to accompany her poignant lyrics.
The result is technical excellence but rather dispassionate experience.
The truly sad part of her career is that her composing talents do not seem to have progressed with time. The new songs she introduced dealt with the same over-worked emotional turmoil, backed by the same familiar Mitchell melodies.
Judging from her lyrics, Joni must go from crisis to crisis; her story is decidedly a depressing experience.
Accordingly the new songs are little more than hindsight, harkening back to an earlier day.
Joni has chosen to make herself the central figure of her lyrics and admittedly the device has worked well for years. But there comes a time for all individuals, as it has for Joni, when one's supply of momentous occasions runs dry. There is nothing left to say.
That is the impression Joni left -- a woman with nothing left to say.
In many respects the evening belonged to Jackson Browne, a California singer who opened the programme. Browne also writes about himself -- and will eventually encounter the same problems as Joni, but presently, earlier in his career, he comes equipped with strong imagery and pleasant melodies.
If you like to keep tabs on future stars, remember Browne's name, for he comes with impressive credentials. His manager handles members of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as well as Joni Mitchell.
Brewer and Shipley, one of the best vocal duos in the business today, have recorded his "Rock Me On The Water," and the first Jackson Browne album is due any day now, complete with some very important session musicians.
The only failing in Browne's performance was his insistence on playing alone. Give him stronger musical force and this boy will be dynamite.
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