Joni Mitchell and the L.A Express, Feb. 7 at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium - reviewed by George Basco
In a manner quite unexpected, Joni Mitchell demonstrated to a capacity crowd of 9,000 in Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday just what talent alone can do for an artist of her calibre.
Joni usually so captivates her adoring audience that they are mesmerized by the mere sight of her on stage. Consequently, she can have an off-night and still receive a standing ovation and the lit matches which have become commonplace at rock concerts.
At Duke, however, Joni was most often at odds with her unruly audience, who continually called for "Woodstock" and other popular Mitchell classics. Joni wanted to play raw material, much of her audience wanted to hear "Joni Mitchell's greatest hits," and there the problem remained, with Joni unrelenting.
Although this confrontation may have created a lousy rapport between artist and audience, it did not seem to effect Joni's performance. In fact, in a somewhat sick way, it made Joni's singing and playing all the better. Stripped of superstar veneer, the former '60s folkie had to succeed on musical ability alone - and succeed she did.
Without any of the usual introductory formalities, Joni, looking very cosmopolitan in a three-piece suite and hat, joined the L.A. Express, who had played a good 45 minute opening set of jazz-rock, on stage and immediately lit into "Help Me," a roar errupting [sic] from the crowd at the first cascading verse. After quickly running through "For Love Or Money" and "Free Man in Paris," the Express left Joni alone on stage for five songs, later complimented by another five song solo set.
Joni's acoustic guitar numbers were excellent, although her solo rendition of "Centerpiece," which included some blues guitar, failed to live up to the group recording and jazz treatment found on her new album, "The Hissing of Summer Lawns." Her solo acoustic piano set, primarily material from the new L.P. did not come off as well.
The seldom-smiling Joni's performance with the Express was exceptionally tight and highlighted by "Just Like This Train" and "Raised on Robbery." The Express, though hurt by the departure of Tom Scott, is her perfect backup band. Subtle and not overpowering, they are content with providing Mitchell with letter-perfect accompaniment.
Although her 24 song, over two-and-one-half hour set was an excellent balance between soft, introspective ballads and loud, lighthearted rockers, Mitchell's performance lacked the vitality, warmth and enthusiasm one would and should expect from an artist and talent as great as Joni. Without these necessary ingredients for a great concert, putting the Joni Mitchell who appeared at Duke on stage was little better than putting any of Joni Mitchell's fine albums on a turntable and looking at her picture on the album cover.
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