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Review of Garden State Arts Center (New Jersey) concert, July 16, 1983
The setting, in Joni's own words, was a sultry summer night in the country, with the lights of the City in the background. Backed by a band which included new husband Larry Klein on bass, Russell Ferrante on keyboards, Michael Landau on guitar, and Vinnie Coaliuta on the drums, Joni gave another professional concert of her compositions with mainly rock and jazz inflections. Gone are the days when her emotional mood determined the concert's outcome; after some 17 years of performing, it is now mainly the degree of attention, amount of energy and quality of voice which are important. Here she was sufficiently involved to bring forth the rocking nature of songs such as "Cotton Avenue", "Wild Things Run Fast", "Raised on Robbery", "Solid Love", and a rousing version of "You Heard It Through the Grapevine". Her voice was relatively strong, and she did hit the high notes, as evidenced by the inclusion of "You Turn Me On", and "A Case of You" in the repertoire. However, she was reluctant to push the upper range too far - no experimenting in the high octaves, as on "Miles of Aisles" - and her power had clearly shifted to the lower and middle registers. The songs which worked to best advantage were those which made use of that power.
Actually, the greatest delight came from those compositions which she presented in altered format. "Song to Sharon" was performed with guitar and drum background; while her piano version is unparalleled, this presentation brought out the swing to the song. "Sweet Bird of Youth" had an accelerated tempo, which gave it greater impact. "For Free" was done with an added refrain, ("playing like a fallen angel, playing like a rising star, playing for a hat full of nothing to the honking of the cars"), and fit her voice perfectly. But the greatest winner was the hard rock version of "Banquet", which transformed an interesting song into a compelling one. If Joni ever gets around to a "greatest hits" album, it would be nice to include this version. [For those who are not familiar with these altered presentations, most can be seen in the 1983 video "Refuge of the Roads"].
Overall, the 1983 concert featured Joni as still able to command a band and audience without trouble. Overall, I would rate this concert B+.
This is my third review for this forum, and it's of some interest to compare the same selections sung at the different concerts between 1976 and 1983. Songs presented at all three were:
"Free Man in Paris"; "Big Yellow Taxi"; "Coyote"; "Edith and the Kingpin"; and "Raised on Robbery". The differences encompass more than just Joni, of course; the bands were completely different. The songs are all of 1974-1976 vintage, and bias the results toward her singing at that time; nevertheless the results are not unexpected. In 1976 Joni used her voice like a majorette uses a baton, completely in control, experimenting with great facility. By 1979 her voice was a bit thinner, but her range if anything was greater: she had more depth to the lower register, while still maintaining an extraordinary capacity to explore very high ranges. By 1983 her voice had lowered, and while she still did hit the high notes, she had to take care as to where she ventured. In 1976 she had great breadth control; by 1983 her lung power appeared considerably weaker. Ah, the ravages of tobacco. To compensate, her '83 delivery was at times more forceful, especially in the low-to-mid-range songs.
For most of the selections, the 1976 or 1979 versions were more exhilarating. However, for "Raised on Robbery" the 1983 version was best; the lower registers appear more appropriate for the kind of sneering presentation that song demands.
Another obvious difference was the quality of the bands: the 1979 band was by far the most inventive, and raised the level of every song. Critics have often commented on the difference between the 1980 "Shadows and Light" backing, and the 1974 "Miles of Aisles" band; while I still consider the earlier live album the better of the two, it is not because of the accompaniment.
Free Man in Paris
Edith and the Kingpin
You Turn Me On I'm a Radio
Song to Sharon
God Must be a Boogie Man
Big Yellow Taxi
A Case of You
Wild Things Run Fast
Sweet Bird of Youth
Raised on Robbery
Refuge of the Roads
You're So Square
Chinese Cafe/Unchained Melody
Heard it Through the Grapevine