There were quite a few wineskins and bright bandanas scattered through the audience at Forest Hills Stadium on Saturday evening, alongside jogging shorts and designer jeans - an echo of Woodstock blended into Gucci-Pucci. Up on the stage was Joni Mitchell, singing across the warm night air, weaving the moods of a decade together effortlessly.
Forest Hills has good acoustics and would be a fine place to listen to music if it weren't for the jets that pass overhead every few minutes, but it seemed that either the planes were mysteriously diverted for the concert or the quality of the show's sound system would not let them intrude. The concert was precise in other respects, too, from the selection of material to the musicianship of Mitchell's companions: Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheney, Don Alias, Lyle Mays and Michael Brecker. Their improvisational solos provided much of the rich texture of the evening, which was true to Mitchell's unyielding artistic discipline.
Variety put spice into the night, beginning with the opening act, the Persuasions, and their a cappella r&b treatment of such classics as "Return to Sender," "Ten Commandments of Love", "Chain Gang", "Handyman", some gospel that had the audience clapping hands and shouting "Amen!" and a good-natured sing-along of "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley."
Mitchell appeared at 9 p.m. sharp in a purple, flowing jumpsuit and high-heels and began her two-hour set with a medley of her own brand of rock 'n' roll - "Big Yellow Taxi," "In France They Kiss on the Street" [sic], "Coyote" and "Free Man in Paris." Then she moved into two Charles Mingus numbers from her most recent album, "Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat" and "The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines," and delivered both melodies in a voice as clear and smooth as it sounds on record - no small feat for a live performance.
"We need some rowdy enthusiasm for this one," she said in introducing the third song from the album, "God Must Be a Boogie Man." The audience came in right on cue.
Much of the evening's material came from two albums, "Hissing of Summer Lawns" and "Hejira," when her style first became, as she describes it, "unbridled." The song "Amelia" was extraordinary as she stood alone on the stage with her voice and guitar. "Dreamland" featured an elaborate conga intro by Alias.
The Persuasions returned for backing vocals on a pure-fun rendition of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" and a moving gospel treatment of "Shadows and Light." The first encore was "The Last Time I Saw Richard," one of her earliest songs and the only time she went to the piano all evening.
Her second encore was "Woodstock," which ended the evening as she walked very slowly offstage, stroking guitar notes that hung anonymously over the darkened stadium for several minutes after she was out of view.