WHEN JONI Mitchell makes one of her rare appearances at the Los Angeles Troubadour there is sure to be sold out shows throughout her engagement, and indeed capacity audiences filled the club every night of her recent four-day stay.
When a performer of any calibre stays out of the public (and critic's) eye, the immediate reaction
of the Press is to pounce, criticise and crucify. (A point in case is the recent re-emergence of Joe Cocker).
Miss Mitchell defies negative criticism and garners favourable critique with every project she pursues, be it her successful return to the stage or her creative knack of producing timeless and poignant albums. And Sunday evening (her final show) was no exception: two and a half hours of the only substitute for Joni on record - Joni in person.
Opening the show was another Asylum artist, Steve Ferguson, a black singer / songwriter /
pianist / guitarist who turned in a surprisingly sensitive and balanced set. With so many "nameless" opening acts, it is difficult to be excited or impressed by yet another face to contend with.
Ferguson, however, proved he has a fine chef's flair in being able to mix his set up with humorous and personal pieces and arriving at a final product appetising to the ear.
From a sensitive song such as "Friends,
Feels so good to have a friend/Someone to talk to/
He may not always let you in/He may not always want to", to a piano instrumental dedicated to
Ry Cooder, Ferguson's quasi-Dan Hicksy approach to his music made him worth listening to.
As soon as Joni Mitchell stepped on stage, she was presented with a glorious bouquet of roses,
and it was for the roses that she turned in a set of warm, tender and sensitive music.
Big Yellow Taxi
sparked immediate recognition in the Troub audience, as Miss Mitchell's
humorous but brutal lines, "Took all the trees, put 'em in a tree museum/And charged the
people a dollar and a half just to see 'em," etched grins on all her listener's faces.
Joni's uncanny use of double entendre metaphors, unquestionably clever rhyme schemes,
and poignant lyrics make every Mitchell composition a challenge and pleasure to listen to.
Unlike her contemporaries whose newer material has none of the vitality or freshness of their
earlier material - notably James Taylor and Carole King - Joni is consistent in producing
noteworthy and valuable albums.
"Sometimes it takes a personal crisis to turn you on the spiritual path. During your childhood
and your teens you go through many crises. Everybody should go through it: it's a good experience. After a crisis you go through a re-evaluation of yourself."
"Anybody with a smile on their face is enlightened. Everybody knows more than you! I walked
into a restaurant a while back and I saw three waitresses, and thought they were the Trinity.
I moved closer to see what they were talking about and maybe see what it was all about, and
I saw they were all wearing black diamond ear-rings."
"While going through some guru books, it said that some people look to Mecca, some to the
Cross, and some to the City National Bank. But I decided they were all wrong. It was happening
right here in the restaurant."
Her enlightening introduction over with, she launched into Barangrill
off her newest album,
FOR THE ROSES
. Not knowing where to turn or find an answer, Joni sees her salvation in her three waitress friends: "And you think she knows something/By the second refill/ You think
she's enlightened as she totals your bill/You say 'Show me the way to Barangrill'."
Joni's approach to music is an honest and sincere one. Her songs are personal appeals which
find their ways into universal hearts. Like Joan Baez, who has likewise been faithful to her cause, Joni is a living example of how truth may be translated into beauty.
"While looking for the guru, I found a book on the spiritual development of Beethoven.
I wrote him a song and was gonna call it 'Roll Over Beethoven Revisited'
, but I decided to
call it 'Ludwig's Tune'
. No disrespect intended."
This was her first piece on the ivories and immediately Miss Mitchell's flowing, bubbly playing
could be heard ringing through the club. Besides listening to her delicate lyrics, it is possible to
understand what she is trying to say by simply listening to her music
One line from Ludwig's Tune
, "Strike every chord that you feel", sums up this non-verbal
communication between artist and audience.
The lady from the canyon performed For Free
with some instrumental (clarinet) backup by
Tommy Scott, who plays woodwinds and reeds on the ROSES
LP and turned in a delightful solo while sitting incognito somewhere in the audience. He then joined Joni on stage for
Let The Wind Carry Me
- another new composition.
Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire
was Joni's comment on heroin addicts, a lyrical pinnacle in
her career. "Bashing in veins for peace/Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire/Fall into Lady Release",
Joni sang, as the audience sat hushed while her crystal voice pierced the silence of the hall.
Dressed in her classic floor length dress, sunshine hair spilling onto her shoulders, and snowy
white teeth reflecting from the stage lights, Joni delved into a little bit of "pop" talk. "I always
wanted to have a hit. I never had a hit you know, so I made one up."
"I decided there were some ways to make a hit, increase the chances. The DJs have to like it,
so you put a long part at the beginning and the end so the DJs can talk over it. Take a tender
situation and translate it into commonly appealing songs for the DJs. It'd have to be a bit corny,
so I wrote this little song called 'Oh Honey, You Turn Me On, l'm A Radio'
This number, in particular, showcases the Mitchellesque use of double meaning metaphors:
"Who needs the static/It hurts the head", and "Call me at the station/ The lines are open",
are two clever examples in the song.
This was Joni's final number, but the Troubadour audience didn't think so. She was brought back
accompanied by unabandoned applause with everybody shouting out their favourites. "I know what I'll do. OK, if I sing Circle Game
, you all have to sing with me, OK?"
Three hundred voices joined the pleased singer for the chorus of the song, and coaxed her into
one more number. For The Roses
, title track of her latest album.