Electric keyboard lines slowly rise in harmonic layers through spatterings of applause, then Joni Mitchell's silken soprano coos, "Every picture has its shadows/And it has some source of light." The Persuasions chime in, "Blindness, blindness and sight." Applause bursts forward then quickly fades as an eerie keyboard pattern drifts behind a dramatic argument (from an unknown film or play) that ends with the softly spoken words "accept yourself." Joni cuts back in, "Compelled by prescribed standards/Or our own Ideals we fight." The Persuasions harmonize, "For wrong, wrong and right." Then there's an abrupt change to '50s bebop followed by applause. The introduction to Shadows and Light ends, and, in the course of a minute and 51 seconds, has set up much of what follows on this live double album recorded at the Santa Barbara County Bowl in September of '79.
Lyric and musical themes revolve, change and return in different phases and settings. Mitchell, performing mainly material drawn from her albums The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Hejira and Mingus, continually leads you into the shadows then back out into the light. It's as if you're spiralling through a maze of contrasting elements that touch but never totally unite. There is always motion in opposite directions.
The lightness of fresh blooming love ("In France They Kiss on Main Street") moves into the darkened shadows surrounding an arrogant pimp and hardened whore ("Edith and the Kingpin"). The cross-cultural ramblings of light and dark, wrong and right throughout "Dreamland" are dissolved with the total absence of conflict in "Free Man in Paris." Chances taken and winning luck of "The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines" stand opposite the "dreams and false alarms" of "Amelia."
The live setting provides Mitchell with a fresh musical canvas where she is able to resequence her compositions, bring out more powerful thematic perceptions and create a larger, more intense overall impact. And at the center lies the song, "Shadows and Light" (excerpted in the introduction and presented completely on Side Four), which serves as the summation of ever present duality and contains a series of lines that, though written in 1975, are now more telling and appropriate than ever: "Hostage smiles on presidents/Freedom scribbled in the subway/It's like night, night and day."
The musicians Mitchell chose for the '79 tour that this Shadows and Light performance was a part of are each sensitive to the creation of special musical statements that further color the lyric sensations of moving into "shadows and light." Bassist Jaco Pastorius (a part of Mitchell's album sessions since Hejira) slaps and fingers elongated patterns and rhythms while Don Alias lightly brushes and rap/rolls his snare set-up or (as heard in the lengthy solo preceding "Dreamland") pats and thumps his congas. The placements of these rhythm accents and tonal timbres, particularly throughout "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," establish lines that echo and work off Joni's sometime
scat-like vocals. Similarly, Michael Brecker's sax (which Mitchell can occassionally match in terms of melodic variance) brightly squeals and wails in and around the central themes. And it is guitarist Pat Metheny, with his characteristic chimey style, and keyboardist Lyle Mays (a member of the Pat Metheny Group), who create the dreamy, majestic flavor that much of Mitchell's
music [sic] ...
Gone are the acoustic guitars, dulcimers and grand piano that once were such an integral part of Joni's stage show. For she, in the past five years, has stretched her musical talents into areas of free-form jazz where folk instruments seldom tread. Throughout Shadows and Light, Mitchell either chops/picks chords and patterns on her electric guitar or plays nothing at all. With just the microphone, Joni concentrates fully on the arching melodies her voice creates while Pastorius, Methany, et al construct the instrumental current.
The Persuasions (who opened for Mitchell on this tour) inject their a cappella vocal strength into Joni's cover of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" Then with all the fervor of a Baptist choir, the group helps powerfully raise "Shadows and Light" into a symphonic rush of emotion. Joni and The Persuasions, locked into harmony, by far surpass Mitchell's multi-tracked vocals in the studio version on Hissing of Summer Lawns. And when Joni, at the very end of the concert (and the LP) sings "Woodstock" while accompanying herself on electric guitar, the intensity of the timeless piece is as moving as the original on Ladies of the Canyon. Closing out Shadows and Light, after so many excursions in and out of the illuminations of happiness and love, the words "and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden" are incredibly powerful in their simple truth.
Mitchell hasn't totally forsaken her early years, she has just developed and changed to the point where now, when she does bring back an "oldie," the song is treated with fresh enthusiasm. Joni can do this because she never repeated her past into the ground for the sake of sentiment: nor has she ever plagerized herself. Rather, she constantly pushes her creative…
(Unfortunately, our copy ends here. Anyone have a complete copy?)