Pre-concert time in the fieldhouse was more than ever like a displaced persons camp. Bambi-eyed "orphans" cried out for other DP's ("Cindy! Hey, Cindy, over here! We're over here!"), while huge balloons floated, bounced, or were volleyed un-Joni Mitchell-like over the heads of the crowd, confusing the wandering waifs even more.
Further snafu was created when unprofessional henchmen barred some of us representing the press from sitting in the press section because we didn't have "white wrist bands," bands that must have been spontaneously generated since a lot of us didn't know about them beforehand.
Meanwhile, an over-capacity crowd plugged the miles of aisles and obstructed the vision of those already seated. It looked like a lesson in sardine-packing and, in spite of an oppressive lack of oxygen, a lot of people were lighting up.
Nausea was further encouraged by the purple and green filtered lights that were spotted on the over-amped L.A. Express, Joni's back-up jazz band. Facial features were blurred; the music blared slightly. It was like maladjusted color TV.
But then, the group got hot, hotter than the badly vented fieldhouse. Victor Feldman on keyboards plodded the first two songs, but when he got his fingers dirty, he was pure funk. And when he laid his pats on the congas, that cat was the crawlly jungle himself, Jack.
Robben Ford was cookin' from the start on the lead guitar with some solid fret work. No squeal, no cat-howl, just good improv. Max Bennett on the electric fender bass pollenated some ears with a very competent bass-line.
John Guerin, who helps Joni arrange some of her pieces, had blasting caps in his drum-tips. Dynamite. A new sax-man for the combo, David Luell, gurgled some nice saxy phlegm in his horn, and his performance on the soprano sax was toked in by the jazz fiends deeper than they could pull on their pipes. It was hemp-a-titus!
The appetite for Joni was whetted by the promise that she would appear after a short intermission. Amid shouts of "Sit down! Sit down!" leveled at the "enthusiasts" who, by standing, blocked the views of those behind them, Joni started up with an appropriate "Help me...," while big-shoulder bouncers (some of them, football players for UC) pushed people back from the stage.
When the black-hatted, black-clad blonde sang "Free Man in Paris," she looked like her thoughts were more there than here.
The distance was further established with "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire." Joni was more cold blue steel than sweet fire with the audience: technically good but lacking the kind of personal rapport with the crowd that she is reputed with in past concerts. Her comments to the audience were curt and clipped; a smile seldom softened her sharply carved face.
They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot...
The words of "Big Yellow Taxi" cracked appropriately on the cinder block walls and sprinkled grout on the crowd. Outside, a very anti-paradise parking lot was glutted with cars.
Beauty and Madness to be praised / Because it is not easy to be raised... / A woman must have everything.
And the woman with everything stormed strongly on the piano, re-emphasizing the versatility of an artist who paints and designs her own album covers as well as executes most forms of the lyrical and musical expressions within them.
Joni tried out some new, unrecorded pieces, "Coyote" and "I'm Don Juan's reckless daughter."
She sang further in her sometimes mournful, yodel-octave-shifting voice, lamenting the predicaments of isolated people: victims of typewriters, girls with credit-card eyes, and poor old "Furry," who curses the destruction of Beale street in the old section of Memphis.
Joni broke into a sleazy version of "Raised on Robbery" and "The Jungle Line," wearing a long fur, and for an encore did a snappy little wind-up with "Twisted." And then, she disappeared.
Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone...
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