Joni Mitchell: Unplugged
David Wild reviews Joni Mitchell's January 26, 1995 performance at the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Los Angeles.
Part of the thrill of seeing Joni Mitchell in concert in 1995 is simply getting the chance to see her at all. While Mitchell's made a few one-off appearances in recent years, she hasn't toured in more than a decade. Wired for a live national radio broadcast, tonight's solo acoustic show was stunning, if brief. For about 200 friends, radio contest winners and media types at the museum's tiny Wells Fargo Theater, this event was as intimate as rock gets.
Appropriately, Mitchell decorated the museum's small stage with all sorts of homey touches, including many of her own paintings. Too bad all the ambiance couldn't be soaked up by the radio audiences listening to the nearly 150 stations broadcasting the event live around the country. Working through an hour long set that emphasized her underappreciated new album, Turbulent Indigo, and other songs of recent vintage, Mitchell was in fine form throughout. Well known as a perfectionist, Mitchell--and her ultra-challenging guitar tunings--caused plenty of downtime between songs. "I'm finicky about this stuff," she said unnecessarily.
More importantly, when Mitchell was playing, she offered vivid proof that she's an artist with a promising future as well as an illustrious past. Never one to just trot out the hits, she opened with "Refuge of the Roads," from Hejira, then made her way through a loosely thematic set of songs emphasizing her recent oeuvre. Among the highlights were a biting rendition of the timely, edgy "Sex Kills," from Turbulent Indigo, and an exquisite, faithful rendition of the still-haunting "Just Like This Train," from Court and Spark. "Night Ride Home" was given an appropriately sensuous reading, while a hilarious new composition called "Happiness Is the Best Face Lift" showed off Mitchell's sometimes overlooked wit. Also memorable was a lovely version of "Yvette in English," a recent collaboration with David Crosby, who she happily noted is "among us again."
Nobody in the rapt audience called out for Both Sides Now" or "Big Yellow Taxi," and everyone left the museum smiling. Throughout the show--and throughout her 25-year career--Mitchell demonstrated why we're lucky she's still among us, artistically speaking: She's a songwriter and singer of subtlety and expressiveness. Maybe next year the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will finally get the message.