A bit of symbolism accidentally crept into Joni Mitchell's opening night concert Tuesday at the Universal Amphitheatre.
Trying to fight off an unusually chilly evening, she borrowed a denim jacket from a stage hand. Beneath it was a flowing formal gown and high heels.
Unplanned as it was, the awkward combination of clothing reflected Miss Mitchell's maturing career.
Once a coffee-house folk-singer void of make-up and polish, she has molded a new image around her splendid mystery.
Scattered pleas for songs from the past filled the air Tuesday, but Miss Mitchell virtually ignored them, comparing the oldies to "an old dress I outgrew."
And when she did pacify the crowd with "Both Sides Now," her heart clearly wasn't in it.
Despite her self-styled change, Joni's music still embraces her sensitised feelings and crystal voice. Her lyrics reveal her innermost thoughts and hard-hitting observations.
Miss Mitchell has an uncanny way of conveying the original emotions that inspire her songs. And her messages often overshadow the musical packages they are presented in.
A striking similarity can be drawn between her music and Bob Dylan's, an artist she admits has influenced her style.
Occasionally, Joni elaborated long stories to the audience as a prelude to songs.
She remembered being a hypocrite not too long ago. Her songs were reflecting peace, country living and all that is natural, while she was travelling from city to city and hotel to hotel.
Then Miss Mitchell moved into a song she wrote while practicing what she preached during a brief respite in rural Canada. It illuminated her mistrust of materialism, critics and the music industry itself.
If one fault can be found among all her attributes, it's that Joni's self-parables sound monotonously alike. There is only so much variety she can inject to a voice which flutters between the high and low notes.
But Miss Mitchell has found somewhat of a cure. Touring with the Canadian-born songstress and providing backup on her latest album is Tom Scott and the L.A. Express.
A close-knit group which lends itself to jazz, rock and pop, the Express fills in the gaps between Joni's piano, guitar and Appalachian harp.
Scott handles the saxophone, flute and clarinet with equal authority. Together with four other musicians, the group glided perfectly through Joni's numbers just when the help was needed.
For those who prefer to have the spotlight rest solely on Miss Mitchell, she offered nearly a dozen solos.
And if she survives the cold climate, Joni will be appearing through Saturday in what must be labeled a successful act.
Tickets, unfortunately, have been sold out for weeks.
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Added to Library on April 23, 2002. (4522)
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