JONI MITCHELL'S three albums have come to mean so much to me that I was risking a lot by going to see the lady in person.
It's often deeply disappointing to see your favorites in the flesh and find that songs which have taken on a personal meaning are merely items in a routine performance. And I had a foreboding that Joni was getting just a little too much of a cult figure - the lady that most hip chicks would like to be and the one most guys would like to know.
I needn't have worried. She is a cult figure, in the sense that she's telling truths in a relevant way. But there's none of the remoteness that that may imply. It was like listening to an old friend. She is, as someone wrote this week, "the priestess who used to live next door."
She looks heartbreakingly vulnerable as she stands in the spotlight in her peasant dress and sings open, honest songs about the men she's loved, the places she's been and the things she's lost. She had a little trouble with her guitar tuning and her piano parts and at times she forgot her words, but it only served to make her more real.
She sang Chelsea Morning, Conversation and Cactus Tree then sat down at the piano for a new song about Christmas; then Rainy Night House, For Free, and The Arrangement. Her piano playing is fairly limited: little more than a swirling velvet undercurrent into which she drops her crystal clear images. But her guitar is something else: strong and vibrant, full of shining chords and rich textures, a perfect foil for her songs.
Big Yellow Taxi began as a spoof Rock session with Bonie Moronie and Peggy Sue and was followed by Both Sides Now, The Gallery and the cruelly effective evocation of the nightmare of city life, Nathan La Freneer.
A dulcimer made by a friend in Big Sur provided the backdrop for Marcie and a stunning new song, I Could Drink A Case Of You Darlin' And Still Be On My Feet, dedicated to a man she met during her five weeks in Crete this summer.
Back to the piano for another new song about My Old Man and her Woodstock which put back the spirit and meaning so missing from the insipid Matthews Southern Comfort version. Graham Nash and manager Eliott Roberts joined her for the sing-along Circle Game and she closed with Michael From Mountains from her first album.
I think it was the most beautiful, and certainly the most purely enjoyable, solo performance I have ever seen.
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