Recording artists sometimes depend heavily on the orchestration and special effects of a studio for their sound, invariably resulting in disappointment for a live audience. But when a performer comes on and outclasses his or her recordings, one can't help but be impressed with the combination of fine musicianship and technical dexterity that brings it about. Such was the quality of last Monday night's concert at Kleinhan's. I got there at 8:00 P.M. and sampled the atmosphere of the very professional hall, watching people walking around, checking out friends, and staring at strangely clad strangers enthusiastically anticipating the concert. At 8:30, Tom Scott's jeering sax set off the show to a background of a rhythmic blues improvisation provided by electric piano, drums, bass and guitar of the LA Express. Rich in melodious intricacy, with talented keyboard work in the middle, and a refined bass bottom giving the sound a strong backbone, all to the setting of a woven, complicated percussion, highlighted an evening of musical fantasies by a group that has many touring and studio credits behind them including work with the Mothers of Invention and Witherspoon.
Their second tune Sneaking In The Backdoor by contrast was a quiet flowing rhythm with a pronounced, thick, sharp horn feeling out notes sometimes with the emotional inflections of a human voice, as it echoed and was enriched by the acoustical vitamins of Kleinhan's. It was polished and excellent and brought an image of Clint Eastwood riding a chopper along the coast of Palm Beach in my mind. For their last tune, alone, the band did LA Expression a song based on futuristic off beat piano chords and jazz guitar rides, modulating up two keys and ending on the drummer's chime. At the sound of the chime, it was 9:05 and a Saskatchewan blonde adorned in a long, red dress studded with glittering sequins ambled on stage wearing her guitar. When the applause died down she went into a soft guitar number during which people standing or with bad seats moved up filling the aisles with their bodies to the passive disapproval of the security force. She went on to do You Turn Me On I'm A Radio, a song featuring harmonica, and a Grand piano plinking colorful riffs. She then sat down behind the Grand piano and played unaccompanied, a moody wistful piece with Tom Scott gradually entering her collage of sound with a flute that made the song full and moving. A girl presented Joni with a bouquet of roses after her next tune and for the last song of the set, she did Woodstock. With a funky rhythm and a tough base pattern, this song was preciously fine. Joni conducted the Grand piano magnificently while Scott entered the beauty of a flute-like instrument called a recorder to the exciting creations of the electric piano that plinked out an aurora of maze-like melodies. In the middle, Joni's voice teased tones with Scott's recorder. This song was Joni at her finest evolving into meaning and wonder missing from her studio recording. At 9:45 she took a 20 minute break.
At 10:05 she began her second set unaccompanied by the Express doing a quiet tune that earned her another bouquet, this time of white flowers. The Express joined her for Big Yellow Taxi, which was enthusiastically applauded by the crowd, as well as more flowers given to her, at the end. Taking a little time out to talk and joke a bit with audience, she spoke with assurance and ease. Calm, casual and energetic throughout, she may as well have performed in a forest or in the isolation of a desert and the audience even grooved to her guitar tuning. Introducing one of her songs as a Cabin Craft she played something reminiscent of the early Simon and Garfunkel style with its observations of nature. As she strummed and moved, a reflection of the blue stage lights bounced off her guitar and scanned the walls, outlining security guards and standing spectators. Once again engineering the Grand piano, she played Blue, a song in which she caught the dreamy beauty of wistful sadness as her vibrato filled voice reverberated off bodies, minds and walls. More emotionally charged notes followed with Joni's For Free about a forsaken clarinet player, as Tom Scott produced the articulate somberness needed from his clarinet and a red spotlight outlined his figure. The LA Express once again joined in with some fine rock numbers that take you into the mood of a NYC nightclub. Finishing off with a raucous rock and roll song featuring the same jeering sax that began the evening, the musical setting changed once again, this time to the gaiety and volume of a single's discotheque. The song ended with the ribbons of a five minute standing ovation as a white spotlight focused on a bouquet of roses near the drums. As the applause refused to subside, Joni was soon back behind the Grand. Tom Scott and the LA Express came on strong with a show tune encore that summed up a musically satisfying evening, with the lady of "fairy tales and ferris wheels".
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