It was too much to hope for - that Joni Mitchell's 1974 Berkeley Community Theater concert could match the brilliant artistry and good feelings of the 1972 event. Last night's Mitchell performance (the first of a pair of sold out affairs, the second being tonight) just didn't come together that way.
We enjoyed the performance, but that special spark that only a few singers like Miss Mitchell can ignite on stage only occasionally burst into flame.
For many years a "folk singer," Joni has been moving through contemporary material and has now, both in person and on her current big-selling LP, become a rock-jazz singer with a band.
Her show started with a fine set (badly mixed by the sound crew) by the extraordinary musicians who later became the accompaniment for many of her songs - Tom Scott on a multitude of reed instruments, Roger Kellaway on keyboards, Robben Ford on guitar, John Guerin on drums and Max Bennett on bass.
Their often avant garde slipping - and - sliding electric jazz sounds were both a prelude and an overture to Miss Mitchell's long portion of the program. The work of Scott, Kellaway, and Ford was magnificent all evening.
Joni sang a few with the band prior to the 35 minute intermission - This Flight Tonight, You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio, Free Man In Paris (Scott on piccolo) The Same Situation, (Scott on flute, Joni at the piano) Just Like This Train, Woodstock, with Scott on bamboo flute . . . etc.
The new numbers (she did most of the tracks from the LP) aren't as melodic nor as lyrically consistent as the best of her early work, and by the middle of the concert's second half the monotony of the rhythm, the peculiar Mitchell intonation and the lack of band backup (she played guitar and piano for a stretch) began to bog down the show.
Miss Mitchell has never been in better voice - it is a far more flexible instrument than in the Chelsea Morning days; and she looks more fetching than ever, changing from one gorgeous gown to an even more attractive one during the break.
Big Yellow Taxi, A Case Of You, Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire, For Free, Trouble Child, and Help Me, moved through the late evening hour, with Miss Mitchell shifting from amplified guitar to dulcimer to piano for her accompaniment - Scott entering, eventually, on soprano sax, and the whole band reassembled to help conclude the presentation.
Both Sides Now, was the last-tune; Joni has changed her phrasing around, expanded the melody, and Ford and Kellaway were marvelous behind her. An encore was Raised On Robbery, and then, finally, a skittish and scattish Twisted, the words Annie Ross wrote to Wardell Gray's tenor sax solo back in the jazzy 50s.
The evening was a bit tense - perhaps self-conscious and strained. Enjoyable in spots but boring in others. Maybe when we're all familiar with the new lyrics the mood will change.
And since Graham Nash examiner daily - sat drama and David Crosby, two of Joni's old cronies, were back stage, their presence with her on a number (and maybe Joan Baez joining in too - she was close at hand) would have helped create the wonderful festive feeling that distinguished the 1972 show.
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