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Lookin' to live up to their legends   Print

by Jane Stevenson
Toronto Sun
October 30, 1998

The meeting of two music legends -- Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan -- on one stage comes along so rarely you'd think there'd be high expectations.

But judging from the weak attendance of last night's Maple Leaf Gardens show -- only 10,000 tickets were sold leaving another 6,000 seats empty -- you gotta wonder just how high.

For the more curious, younger types in the audience, whose numbers were impressive, maybe it was a chance to finally see what they've been told about these two '60s and '70s folk icons for all these years.

For the older die-hard Dylan and Mitchell fans, it must have been --come on, admit it -- a bit of a nostalgia trip.

The truth of how the show played out last night falls somewhere in between.

There should have been less Joni and more Bob.

Mitchell, who released yet another album of laid-back jazz-and-folk fusion, Taming The Tiger, less than a month ago, wasted no time in getting to the hits as she began her hour-and-twenty-minute set with Big Yellow Taxi while strumming an electric guitar on stage alone.

Looking dazzling -- those taut cheekbones can still be seen from a mile away despite her turning 55 on Nov. 7 -- in a flowing pantsuit of gold-embosssd red velvet and gold sandals, Mitchell was also relaxed as she addressed some in the audience by their nicknames.

"Is Killer out there?" she asked, before dedicating her new song, Face Lift, to this person. (Possibly her Toronto-based daughter Kilauren Gibb who she gave up for adoption in 1965 but reunited with last year?)

However, despite Mitchell's solid stage presence -- one front row guy in a white top hat and tails even presented her with flowers -- and accomplished four piece band, led by her ex-husband-producer Larry Klein on bass, most of the older material appeared to fall on restless ears.

There was polite applause but even when Mitchell returned for a one-song encore with Woodstock, it seemed overwhelmingly obvious the crowd was ready for Dylan.

It was only when she put down her guitar to sing a jazzy version of her hit, Free Man, and a Billie Holiday cover, Comes Love, that she really hit her stride.

Dylan, meanwhile, had no problem in the crowd connection department as flashing lights indicated he and his four-piece band (all dressed in snazzy suits and hats) were about to take the stage.

The excitement was palpable as the audience, suddenly rowdier and seemingly drunker, lept to their feet when Dylan opened his hour-and-five minute show with Serve Somebody.

That was followed by Million Miles, from his most recent album, 1997's triple Grammy-winner Time Out Of Mind, which has seen him enter a new phase of his career, playing way more shows than Mitchell, who hasn't toured in 16 years, and get only better as a performer.

Dylan, 57, and Mitchell test drove the idea of a road trip together in May when they played a select number of West Coast dates with Van Morrison -- deemed "the holy trinity" of singer-songwriters by some -- also along for the ride. But the hype for those shows was considerably bigger out there, with the show at GM Place in Vancouver (the only Canadian stop on that tour) selling out in 24 hours.

(As one music colleague whispered to me last night: "There's more ex-hippies out there.")

A sweeping generalization maybe, but if you want either Dylan or particularly Mitchell to keep performing live, you've got to support them.

Dylan's standout numbers, by the way, were Masters Of War, Forever Young, Tangled Up In Blue and Highway 61, all of which brought about standing ovations.

 

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