Bringing a style of modern American music all her own, Joni Mitchell arrived in town this week to play to an enthusiastic and adoring crowd of her followers. Her concert Tuesday at Robin Hood Dell West in Philadelphia had her faithful throwing flowers and singing along for most of Ms. Mitchell's two-hour set.
The opening act for the concert was the Persuasions, a rhythm and blues group performing a cappella, who gave their special treatment to songs such as "Return To Sender," "Chain Gang," "Handyman," and "Amen." A fun part of the evening was provided when the Persuasions held a talent contest during "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley," when members of the audience came up to the stage to give their rendition of the song.
Ms. Mitchell's set provided a variety of styles and material that she has explored since beginning her career in 1965.
The opening medley, Mitchell-flavored rock and roll, ran through such classics as "Big Yellow Taxi," "In France They Kiss On Main Street," "Coyote," and "Free Man In Paris."
Then, for the next twenty minutes, the fans got a real treat in hearing exquisite versions of pieces from her latest album, "Mingus."
A collaboration between Mitchell and Charles Mingus, the late jazz bassist, "Mingus" is a remarkable work of modern jazz that was released a few months after the great man died.
Mingus himself, who lived long enough to hear all but one of the album's songs completed, was said to have considered the collaboration a success.
Ms. Mitchell first introduced "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," the Mingus classic which she recently wrote the words to, and then unstrapped her guitar in order to dance while singing "The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines."
She then told the story of how Mingus was visiting a psychiatrist to help his mental anguish, while the psychiatrist was only interested in hearing about Mingus' outrageous sex life.
"Charlie asked the shrink, 'Do you believe in God,' " she recounted. " 'Of course I believe in God' the shrink said, and Charlie asked, 'But as a boogie man?' "
The audience roared and Mitchell stormed into "God Must Be a Boogie Man," her composition inspired by the first chapter of Mingus' autobiography "Beneath the Underdog."
The rest of the evening highlighted material from her albums "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" and "Hejira," with her backup band given time to showcase their considerable talents on lengthy solos.
An extraordinary number, "Amelia," was performed by Ms. Mitchell alone on voice and guitar, until the ending with Metheny coming in with a bell-toned electric lead that transformed into a solo when Mitchell walked off-stage.
Alias' solo on the congas led into the jungle sounding "Dreamland" with Ms. Mitchell's vocals and the band on different types of percussion.
The highlight of the evening came when the Persuasions came back onstage to accompany Ms. Mitchell in a stunning cappella version of her song "Shadows and Light," the last number.
For the encores, Ms. Mitchell came back alone to solo on "The Last Time I Saw Richard," at the piano for the first time all evening, and "Woodstock," on guitar.
The concert ended with her walking off-stage with her wireless electric guitar, still strumming chords that could be heard a full five minutes after she was out of view.
It should be noted that Ms. Mitchell's appearance has changed dramatically since her days as a folk singer. At his show she looked elegant and classy in a black, flowing jumpsuit with high heels, with bright blonde curly hair falling to her shoulders.
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Added to Library on June 11, 2002. (5987)
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