The last time Joni Mitchell visited the Philadelphia area she appeared at the acoustically dynamic Temple Music Fair in Ambler. This time around, she agreed to play in the sonically atrocious Spectrum sports arena. So, it goes without saying that Ms. Mitchell and her accompanists, The L.A. Express, were at a disadvantage to begin with and that it would be an uphill battle to overcome the environment in which she found herself this past Monday evening.
For powerful rock acts like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, the size of the complex can be utilized to an advantage. However, for a presentation spotlighting a singer song writer from the 1960's folk genre with touches of conventional jazz-rock influences, from the 1970's, the Spectrum was a monumental challenge.
Instead of providing a set that would be musically serviceable under the situation Mitchell simply approached the concert as she would were it being staged at an intimate coffee house. Numbers with the full piece band were few and far between while she relied basically on her lone acoustic guitar to augment her especially melodious vocal delivery. With this kind of framework it appeared that only the immediately near patrons in the hall could evoke any level of enjoyment even approaching 100%.
Joni was aptly garbed for the occasion in a stark black jumpsuit highlighted by a pair of embroidered roses on each arm. At times during the performance she sported a wide brimmed chapeau and a beaked policeman's hat and at other segments of the show she cavorted around in a long feathered shawl. But, this was the extent of the evenings theatricality.
The majority of the recital's musical selections were chosen from Ms. Mitchell's two most recent studio albums, the extremely commercial Court and Spark collections and the profoundly enterprising The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Also, various pieces from her live Miles of Aisles package were featured. The more well known moments of the two hour set afforded the greatest audience response. Song reproductions that deserved acclaim were "Free Man In Paris" with its vivacious saxophone backing, "Big Yellow Taxi" delivered with a specially tuned acoustic guitar, her uplifting new single "In France They Kiss On Main Street" and "Rainy Night House" performed with that distinctive Joni Mitchell vocalese.
"Raised on Robbery," the artist's first rate attempt to rock 'n roll, brought the affair to a high pitch, while a heavily syncopated African tribal rhythm set the pace for a tune called "The Jungle Line" and a very offbeat ending. A scat presentation of "Twisted" was the compulsory encore of a show that hit a distressing number of low points. Ms. Mitchell included several new compositions. Their ultra-mellow stance along with their free from [sic] verse tempo tended to elicite [sic] a certain sameness that presented boredom as a real possibility, especially considering the venue in which the event was produced and the unfamiliarity of the material.
One option Joni Mitchell might consider is not returning to the echo chamber Philadelphia's endearingly call the Spectrum. After, all, Electric Factory does have a monopoly of sorts in this city.
This would seem to be the most preferential solution if she is to continue to offer her acoustic extravaganzas which continue to be the emphatic offbeat hub of her craft. A suggestion that she should consider is limiting her performance to her strongest creations, not necessarily the best known work, but the pieces that display the quintessential art of Joni Mitchell.
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