Both light and poetry reflected from Joni Mitchell's guitar and played on the obviously delighted masses at her March 23 Columbia concert. Her performance was marked by the sparkling animation that has extended her credentials as an innovator and an artist. Among her creations, "Both Sides Now" (along with "Chelsea Morning" and "Michael From The Mountains [sic]," which were also recorded and popularized by Judy Collins) is probably the song for which she is most widely known. But beyond lyrical and musical strength as a song writer, Joni Mitchell again demonstrated the instrumental and vocal expertise necessary for free, sensitive expression.
The back-up band opened with a jolting warm-up of rock and jazz improvisations. The audience was impatient; almost anything that delayed the arrival of the main attraction was bound to alienate. Nevertheless, despite the extraneous volume and somewhat tour de force themes, Tom Scott and the L.A. Express presented noteworthy abilities individually and as a unit. Tom Scott intelligently employed a sizable array of woodwinds and reeds as he led percussionist Guerin, Electric pianist Sample, bass player Felder, and guitarist Robbie Robertson. Robertson is known for association with The Band and Dylan, and for writing "The Weight."
A transition of mood and music took place when Joni Mitchell stepped on and, without pause, began a continuous series of selections. The new sound included all talents of the back-up, and was focused and proportioned in all parts around Joni Mitchell's voice, guitar and piano. The back-up blended extremely well with her strong voice, and song after song the performance came across with precision, sparkle, and ability. The tempo paused during an improvisation from For The Roses; her range is not infinite, but in a game of imitation she copied with her voice any run that Robertson could finger on the guitar. The crowd approved.
After only a half an hour the first spoken words abruptly created another transition, "be back in 15 or 20." The music was excellent, but it seemed that audience and onstage had not really met each other yet.
She reappeared wearing a flowing blue formal and accompanied only by her guitar. She soon stopped to talk to the crowd - a relaxed sort of light, satirical monologue - on streaking and Woodstock, her own recent humanitarian efforts in Canada and California, and living in the 70's [sic]. It was a verbal smile which notably improved the concert. She thought that in every religion there are "Some who are truly enlightened." She admitted ecology-mindedness - then confessed, "But I litter."
Then for two hours the crowd appreciated a selection from all her albums. Well known favorites from Clouds and Sistobell [sic] Lane received large praise. A few blues of the deepest kind, taken from Blue, were sung with piano and dulcimer and contributed to the mood. Late in the performance Joni Mitchell on piano poured forth the title song "Blue" with all the feeling a closing number might receive.
The concert was structured around music from the albums For The Roses, which was released this past Fall, and Court and Spark, released in February. Crosby and Nash, Jose Feliciano, Cheech and Chong did not (unfortunately) appear to contribute as they had for the recording of Court and Spark. Nevertheless, all songs were faithfully performed. It was a concert of new music; the crowd gave full attention. There was an openness of attitude in the relationship. It was perhaps a reflection of the lyrics:
Now you turn your gaze on me
Weighing the beauty and the imperfection
To see if I'm worthy
Like the church
Like a cup
Like a mother
You want me to be truthful.
Joni Mitchell's lyrics most often deal with human situations and one to one relationships. The closing song "Raised on Robbery" is a beautiful example; it is the scene of an encounter between two people: a man who is distinctly characterized in only three opening lines of gentle rock, and a fascinating personality introduced by "Along comes a lady in lacy sleeves / She says..." Then the main body of the song (consisting of the lady's talking) explodes in sensuous rock and roll. At that point Joni Mitchell becomes an actress in sound; the fine variations of her voice are a touch of genius.
After a prolonged ovation, Joni Mitchell reappeared with the back-up to offer a jazz encore, "Twisted." Halfway through (at Cheech and Chong's part) while Robertson and Scott continued the improvisations, she talked; first to the back-up on the subject of whether or not Guerin was twisted, and then to the audience. She called for full house lights to remove the "vacuum out there" and then continued to explain "...we all got twisted a little somewhere along the way...we all have little corkscrews in our souls..." And then she finished the song, beginning with lines that match her fine style:
They say as a child
I appeared a little bit wild
With all my crazy ideas
But I knew what was happening
I knew I was a genius...
What's so strange when you know
That you're a wizard at three
I knew that this was meant to be.
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