Joni Mitchell is a study in contradictions. Within the music industry she is deservedly one of the most revered contemporary songwriters of the 20th Century. Yet for the past 25 years, following her 1974 commercial peak "Court and Spark," her work has more often than not fallen on deaf ears among the general public.
Mitchell lived up to her reputation on both fronts Wednesday night as she played to a crowd of slightly more than 4,000 at West Palm Beach's MARS Music Amphitheatre. Fans who shied away, perhaps dismayed by the fact that this tour eschewed the bulk of Mitchell's catalog in favor of orchestrated jazz vocal standards written by the likes of Rodgers and Hart, Harry Warren, and Harold Arlen, missed a rich concert.
"I'm just a chick with a band this time. I bought a bra and burned my guitar," Mitchell joked in one of many displays of humor.
On her Both Sides Now Tour, Mitchell performed the entirety of her current standards CD - the lush and thematic "Both Sides Now" - in sequential order. Accompanied by a 70-piece orchestra, featuring musicians culled from South Florida, Mitchell upped the CD's emotional impact twofold in the live environment. Cigarette-cured, her voice, husky and tentative, Mitchell took her audience on a film-noir styled "trip I'm sure you've all taken, the arc of romantic love, when the pheremones go into the receptors and you've had it."
The show started with the flush of full-on ardor with "You're My Thrill." Doubt and recrimination set in on "You've Changed." And she swam for a while in the obsession stage (her own "A Case of You").
At this point, she told of a long-ago fight with ex-husband Chuck Mitchell after a gig in Coconut Grove. His mother told Joni, "The first waffle should be used to warm up the pan and then thrown out." Love lost and perhaps willing to try again, Mitchell's stellar set finally peaked with a reflective take of her '60s standard "Both Sides Now." The livelier second set touched on her 1976 "Hejira" CD and she closed her two-hour concert with a jazzy cover of Marvin Gaye's "Troubled Man."
The lasting impressing left an afterglow. Mitchell takes you through the wringer and, at 56, she has the experience to make her look at love indelible in a way her younger sisters in song cannot match. In sum, this was a brilliantly conceived concert.