Well, it was a long time coming but Joni Mitchell finally showed up at Red Rocks Amphitheater. While the appearance didn't move mountains, for the faithful who persevered it was a rewarding evening.
Mitchell, the Canadian whose songs often deal with love - found and lost, performed Saturday night before a house that was just half full. If the crowd's attendance record had been as poor as Joni's, there would have been no one there.
Since 1974 when her first scheduled appearance at Red Rocks was snowed out (the only time this has happened there), Joni's attendance slate has been shabby. She cancelled four times after '74, until returning in August 1979, and was scheduled to play two shows this year on June 19 and 20. She didn't make it.
Two shows then became one, and even that was a less-than-hot ticket.
But Mitchell, who strolled on stage without fanfare to offer several solo numbers for openers, gave it her all, covering a wide range of musical styles and periods, even reaching back into the 1950s at a point or two.
That her singing range has narrowed considerably was only scarcely noticed. Where she used to soar with some of the notes, as in her only Top-10 hit, "Help Me", for example, she now seems content to spend more care on working with those areas in which she feels comfortable.
It was obvious from the crowd's reaction that Joni has a long way to go to recapture the followers she ditched a couple of years ago when she avidly wandered off in pursuit of jazz melodies and forms. For example, the biggest hand was reserved for an upbeat version of her wry, 10-year-old tale of barroom love, "Raised on Robbery." And another of her early hits, "Big Yellow Taxi," with its familiar lyric, "Don't it always seem to go/ You don't know what you've got till it's gone," also drew a healthy response.
If she is reluctant [to] go up the register, Mitchell is quite effective at the bottom end. A brief encounter with the ballad, "Unchained Melody" was a pleasant switch from the high, thin vibrato with which she often works and she did a nice job on Buddy Holly's Elvis Presley sendup, "(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care."
While she fed the audience what they wanted with "Big Yellow Taxi" and "Raised on Robbery," Mitchell also gave 'em a few things off her latest album, "Wild Things Run Fast," in which she returns to more familiar musical territory, ending the regular part of the concert with "Love," a moving and lyrical love song.
If there was complaint with Saturday's performance, the last on her current nationwide tour, it is that Mitchell spends too much time on endlessly rambling stories about lonely cities, lonely diners, lonely people and lonely open roads. Whatever their titles or topics, the tendency is for the songs to run together, creating a kind of torpor in the audience.
And the band. A strong, cold wind early in the concert blew many of Joni's words over the rocks, leaving only the sounds of a band whose bridges too often consisted of licks that noted guitar rockers like Eric Clapton tossed out of their songbooks 10 years ago. And they often seem inappropriate to the lyrics and mood of the songs.
Other than that, it was nice to have Joni show up.
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