East Troy - Singer Joni Mitchell is that relatively rare musical persona: a considerable writer and a fine singer. The fact that she is still a major star compared with such faded contemporaries as Judy Collins is a testament to that.
Unfortunately, the star has taken her reclusive habits too far, as 7,100 fans discovered Thursday night in the first of two concerts at Alpine Valley Music Theater.
Ms. Mitchell, who can easily stand on her own as a folk and rock singer, received significant help from a quintet of fine musicians, including guitarist Pat Methany and bassist Jaco Pastorius. The result was a generally excellent musical presentation.
But the evening was marred by Ms. Mitchell's overdone reticence. The star said not a word to her audience all night. She didn't bother to acknowledge applause, introduce members of her band after solos, or mention the names of new material from her latest "Mingus" album.
The concert in effect struck one as singularly impersonal and clearly had some fans disoriented. It took well-known Mitchell songs like "Free Man in Paris" to shake the inertia-ridden audience.
Ms. Mitchell opened the show with her biggest hit, "Big Yellow Taxi," which was given a solid treatment with excellent instrumentation by Methany and company.
Other songs such as "This Train" and "Edith and the Kingpin" were done with Mitchell thoroughness and considerable help from Michael Brecker on horn, Don Alias on drums and Lyle Mays on keyboard.
Brecker's horn added a nice bouncy touch to much of the evening's material, as did Alias' work on drums and congas. Backed by Lyle's subtle keyboard work, Methany delved into some excellent, expressionistic picking in an interlude between the songs "Amelia" and "Hejira."
Ms. Mitchell's voice, which is always interesting, showed additional range and color as she performed "Pork Pie Hat" from her new album which was produced in collaboration with the late jazz bassist Charlie Mingus. Ms. Mitchell's at once jazzy and bluesy phrasings conjured up visions of a dimly-lit café with a Dinah Washington or Billie Holiday stroking the melodies on stage.
The show sagged noticeably in the last third of the set, largely because of a lack of rapport between the audience and Ms. Mitchell. Perhaps if the singer were a little more forthcoming, her concerts would be the unqualified successes they should be.
Joni sang to crowd
Letter to the Editor -
To The Sentinel:
(Milwaukee Sentinel, August 24, 1979)
Lennox Samuels' review of Joni Mitchell's performance at Alpine Valley concentrated on her lack of rapport with the audience. My wife and I were part of the audience and disagree totally with the reviewer.
True, Joni Mitchell didn't talk to the crowd; she SANG to them and established her rapport in that manner. She didn't waste time with idle chatter the way too many performers do, but with a blend of sensitive, honest and entertaining songs.
I thought the audience responded to her enthusiastically though not in the way a crowd might react to a raucous band. It's too bad the reviewer was hung up on his idea of rapport (the dictionary defines it as "relation marked by harmony"), because he missed what was one of the finest concerts I've been privileged to attend.
Whitefish Bay, Wis.