A connoisseur's evening?
Perhaps that is the most telling way of describing Joni Mitchell's concert Wednesday in the LSU Assembly Center. It was a sublime performance, but the level of sophistication was significantly higher than the norm. There was very little overlap between Wednesday's audience and the crowd for, say, the last Molly Hatchet concert.
Ms. Mitchell is a phenomenon of popular music, and one of its finest and most consistently inspired artists. She is surely one of the few really great songwriters of her own time. Even at those moments in her rich career that have tried one's patience - the Carlie Mingus phase, for instance - there has been a sense of adventure, craft and style in her writing and performing. Oh, yes, and mystique, too.
Standing on the Assembly Center stage Wednesday, beneath a triangular arrangement of artfully colored banners, she was indisputably and disarmingly a star. Hers is an audience that, in a world that caters to the obedient lambs who follow Van Halen, doesn't have the opportunity to get excited much these days. And Wednesday's crowd was accordingly affectionate.
"We love you, Joni!" one fan yelled during the first half of the concert, to which she replied with a cool, open-armed, "What can I say?" gesture of thanks.
Ms. Mitchell's performance Wednesday was never less than immaculate, except for the rather hilarious moment in the concert's second half when she went blank on a verse of "Help Me," one of her most popular songs. Both halves of the concert mixed her provocative, introspective ballads - rich in images, freewheeling in structure and melody - with more conventional, but stylish and expertly crafted rock songs. She moved from guitar to piano to dulcimer, and back to guitar again, in a tireless and generous performance.
Wednesday's was one of the best produced rock concerts I've ever seen or, more to the point, heard. Ms. Mitchell's band is extraordinary in its ability and its smooth support for her. The sound was beautifully reproduced and, for all the right reasons, this concert lingers in the memory.
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