If staying power is any indication of greatness, Joni Mitchell re-established her claim to it Saturday night at the Charlotte Coliseum. With tunes from her latest album, The Hissing of the [sic] Summer Lawns and Court and Spark dominating the evening, Ms. Mitchell toured through songs from most of her albums, but with selections from Blue strangely missing.
After a pleasant, but rather uninteresting rhythm and blues set by The L.A. Express, Ms. Mitchell appeared, casually dressed, to open her set with "Help Me" from Court and Spark. Her first few songs, however, seemed a bit hurried and lacking depth of feeling.
But after a few warmup songs, her presence began to sweep through the audience as she led them through "For the Roses" and "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" from For the Roses. "Big Yellow Taxi" drew cheers of familiar approval from throughout the audience.
Two yet unreleased songs, "Coyote" and "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" highlighted Saturday's performance. "Coyote," a light, lyrically humorous piece, spoke of a casual romantic encounter of a female hitchhiker, "a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway." The bouncy rhythm of "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" led into a string of tunes from The Hissing of the [sic] Summer Lawns.
Acoustics at the Charlotte Coliseum are notoriously poor, and until the second part of the set when old favorites from early albums made way for newer songs, one had to struggle to understand the lyrics. But despite sound that was only fair, the dominant element of the concert was, of course, Joni herself.
Ms. Mitchell maintains a very magnetic presence on stage, drawing the audience into the midst of her poetic, flowing lyrics. One major disappointment of the Charlotte concert was that Joni was reserved vocally. Only rarely did she really explore the extremes of her wide vocal range. Neither did she pause to talk to the audience as she often does in her concerts. The absence of dialogue seemed to keep the feeling of intimacy with the audience to a minimum.
Ms. Mitchell concluded the concert with a high-spirited series of songs in which her back-up band, The L.A. Express, stood out for the first time during the show. She finished with "The Jungle Line," a number with a strong bass beat and congas, giving the song a thick flavoring of the African jungle.
The thunderous applause and a forest of lights from matches and cigarette lighters after "The Jungle Line" brought Joni back for an encore ("Twisted" from Court and Spark) and to shake hands with a few of her fans.
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