Joni Mitchell attracts a different crowd than most "rock" performers. People travel to such places as Poplar Creek, where Mitchell entertained on Wednesday, wanting to hear what she has to say.
The lyric is everything.
Many of the Mitchell worshipers seemed to hang on the edge of her syncopated rhythms, waiting for the familiar word or phrase - then bam! A fist in the air. a squirm in the seat or a "yeah," when that word or phrase came across and touched the soul.
Whatever the setting or mood Mitchell captured, you've been there; you've felt that, too. The emotions that move you could be outrage prompted by "Banquet" or depressing reflection on being middle-age mothers in "Chinese Cafe" ("We look like our mothers did now/when we were those kids' age"), or a delightful flirtatiousness in "Raised on Robbery."
The crowd consisted of solid Mitchell freaks. They knew the songs and the lyrics.
Mitchell started the performance playing "Coyote" alone on guitar. When she accentuated the phrase "where a local band was playing," the bass and lead guitars, keyboard player and drummer joined on cue.
Execution of difficult background rhythms that provide the vehicle for expressing her lyrics was carried off well. The rhythm sets the mood and gives a song body. Mitchell gives it life.
The second song, "Free Man in Paris," won more nods of familiarity, where again the impressionistic background laid the foundation for a feeling of freedom, of having it once and longing for it again.
"Edith and the Kingpin" laid the crowd back before "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio," "God Must be a Boogie Man" and "Dream Flat Tires" from her latest album "Wild Things Run Fast," and "Parking Lot" heated things up.
She was sensual in "Wild Things Run Fast," flirted and strutted through "Raised on Robbery" ("Come up to my kitchen, I'll show you my best recipe") and broke into big smiles through "You're So Square" and "Solid Love."
Serious moments balanced the evening, particularly on such heavy, heavy songs as "Chinese Cafe," "Love" (both from "Wild Things Run Fast") and "Song for Sharon" from "Hejira."
Her encores included a fun and slinky version of "I Heard It through the Grapevine," then she ambled from one end of the stage to the other, playing a farewell solo on "Woodstock."
The encores left the crowd exhilarated, smiling and wanting much, much more. The smiles even pervaded the clot of traffic following the show.