Joni Mitchell's hands betrayed her voice Thursday night.
That beautiful voice, a piercing whisper that permeates every thread of her songs, was constant, full and didn't miss a beat.
And through the first few tunes, include "Help Me" and "Free Man in Paris," she played a mean rhythm guitar.
But toward the end of the show it was apparent the guitar had gotten the best of her hands, had become harder to manipulate.
Possibly the best song of the night was "For the Roses," a long beautiful tale of her ascent to stardom. Her mellow, piercing voice easily reached the high notes and her guitar picking was at its best. Those elements filled the LSU Assembly Center with wonderful music.
Another highpoint was her rendition of "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire," a bitter tale of the evils of drug addiction. She sang of the sorrows of "Bashing in veins for peace" in a sultry voice backed her her fine acoustic chords and mellow tones on alto clarinet by David Lewell of the L.A. Express, her backing group.
Only twice during the night did she take to the piano, on "Shades of Scarlet Conquering" and "For Free." Her keyboard work was superb but, unfortunately, she spent most of the night fumbling over her guitar chords.
At some points it seemed she was struggling to remember the chords ("Don't Interrupt the Sorrow") and other times it seemed the chords just didn't conform to her voice ("Harry's House-Centerpiece").
Later the full beauty of her voice came across on "Rainy Night House." Unencumbered with the guitar, she seemed able to concentrate fully and put everything into her voice.
One of the problems may have been that she was as yet uncomfortable with the many new songs she introduced at the concert. Between songs several times she paused to retune her guitar to a different key and this slowed the pace of the show somewhat.
She finally relaxed again toward the end of the show, pouring it on with a rousing "Raised on Robbery," the mysterious "The Jungle Line" and her encore, "Twisted."
The Canadian Singer's appeal, besides her voice, is in her lyrics. Many of her songs bare her inner feelings about broken love affairs and her cynical view of her profession. Her lyrics are poetic, but not the run-of-the-mill poetry that characterizes so much of pop music today.
And combined with that seductive, overpowering voice, which flows in and out, high and low, across melody lines (She has an unusual way of timing - she makes four bars of verse fit smoothly into two bars of music.), the words mean more than they say.
The L.A. Express has been playing with Ms. Mitchell for a long time and it provides a stable backup for her wandering tunes. Robben Ford provided some particularly fine electric guitar work on several songs.
Victor Feldman put his bongos to work at the right times, providing a steady beat when Ms. Mitchell seemed to be struggling with her guitar on a new tune.
Drummer John Guerin and bassist Mas Bennett rounded out the group with capable performances.
Before Ms. Mitchell came out the group played several numbers. The best number included a double-tonguing tenor saxophone solo by Lewell, which drew "oohs" from the crowd.
The last song in the group's set was "Down the Middle," a number written by Guerin which included a pleasant guitar-tenor sax duet melody.
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