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by Jim Leahy
"Jony Mitchell: L'impegno, l'amore" is the title of the Italian TV broadcast of Joni's mini-concert at 1988's San Remo Song Fest where she received a songwriting award. This five-song set is a surprisingly taut little gig featuring some of Joni's best singing ever. Maybe it was that California flu bug she picked up before she arrived that made her voice so pungent and vulnerable; maybe it was the strangeness of the setting and the built-in audience approval that gave her such a relaxed focus.
After a straightforward version of her then-new song "Night Ride Home," Joni moves into a new minor 7th tuning for a guitar version of "Lakota" from the recently released Chalkmark in a Rainstorm. Gorgeous, passionate phrasing; dramatic and soulful singing; deliberate but mesmerizing momentum; percussive guitar licks punctuated by aggressive attacks of harmonics -- I never realized the song could be so moving.
Joni then sings Hejira and Number One, followed by the presentation of the award and a bouquet of flowers from Antonio Silvia and Bruno Valenciano. But the real treat, the one that ends the show, is a "work in progress" -- a song that would eventually become one of her most elliptical and enigmatic song-poems: Passion Play. Just guitar chords and Italian-sounding syllables: "bom de dom dom day . . . bella dom dom day" with a few words: "It'll take time, but time brings changes." Peaceful, almost meditative -- this kind of committed singing you can't fake.
I think at this point Joni had finally given up trying to be a flashy rock'n'roll singer. Did her return to her sixties-style straight hair and bangs in 1988 signal a return to her musical roots as well? I think so. With the exception of her gig at 1989's Our Common Future benefit, this Italian engagement was pretty much her last public performance until her great 90s acoustic revival beginning in 1993. But more of that in Wally's next bio section!
(Submitted by Mauro Regis on May 10, 2000):
This was the second (and last) Joni's appearance in Italy after 1983 tour.
She was prized with the Premio Tenco, and performed a solo set of about thirty
minutes. She was cold and throat ill, but played an incredible set, with one of the early (or maybe the first) live performance of "Night Ride home", and a building up "Passion Play" with no words.