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Joni Mitchell enchants crowd at Assembly Center Print-ready version

by Eddy Allman
Baton Rouge State Times
June 28, 1983
Original article: PDF

Is there anyone you know who can affect you deeply and completely whenever she's near you? Is there anyone in your life for whom you have an instant rapport, a sense that your soul has been bared simply by being in the same room with her? Is there anyone so attuned to who you are, what you want, why you need that you feel invigorated and refreshed - and, yes, relieved - because you know her?

The object of this rather mushily affectionate rhetorical train of thought is no ordinary "friend" in the base sense of the word. "She" is Joni Mitchell, a confessionally poetic song-crafter who has probably carved out the only niche worth carving in the '70's singer/songwriter school that produced some of the era's most intensely introspective entertainers.

Joni Mitchell's enchantingly mournful, humanistically bittersweet performance at the LSU Assembly Center Monday night certainly seemed to confirm her stature as one of music's most eloquent spokespeople for affairs of the heart and spirit.

It was a moving, sometimes bombastic, most often heartfelt two-and-a-half hours-worth of some incredibly spry and intensely realized mood music, music which prompted memories of a bygone counter-cultural aesthetic as well as a sense of emotional timelessness which will remain forever fresh and real and whole for what it is.

And what it is - Joni Mitchell's continuing vitality as an artist - s something which will never grow old or outdated, regardless of whether or not radio programmers decide to market it to the masses.

Never mind that Joni Mitchell's voice is as pure and as evocative as we remember from her hit-making heyday. Never mind that she's incorporated snippets of pop-flavored reggae and blues into her repertoire of electric folksiness. She's certainly capable of a kind of technical assimilation which allows her to dabble in popular tastes. But she's also proven that she doesn't need any "modern" influences to justify her art. Her integrity - and the sheer power that flows from it - hasn't been budged one bit by the changing appetite for beat and cool.

What made Joni Mitchell's performance so poignant, so personal, so relevant, was her complete lack of pretension about what she had to say. At one point in particular - at the chorus of "Help Me" - she forgot where she was in the song. She immediately stopped strumming her guitar and turned her back on the audience, laughed along with the spontaneous chuckles from the audience and her bandmates and picked up the tempo again - in the middle of the last verse. The mistake was lovably human. Far from turning anyone off, it brought the performer and her audience closer together than any fine-tuned perfection ever could have. In that moment, Joni Mitchell became one of the crowd, a seriously affected ordinary buddy who goofs now and then in her quest for rapport with her friends.

In this audience were preppies and old hippies, grandmothers and granddaughters, businessmen and students. It was a cross-section that also included several young children, who unaccountably sat stock-still and attentive throughout Joni Mitchell's long, sometimes whispery quiet performance. One young lady, a nine-ear-old named Heather, who'd never been to any concert before, seemed curiously awestruck by a woman far removed from [the] blathering beat-consciousness of commercial music. If music can move preteens to rapturous attentiveness, it seems obvious that it can move anyone.

From beautiful ballads like "Amelia," "Edith [and the Kingpin]" and "For Free" (which featured Joni Mitchell at the piano, solo) and stately, elegant rockers like "[Song for] Sharon" and mellow pieces like "A Case of You" to surprisingly bold and rollicking rockers "Wild Things Run Fast" and "You're So Square," to improvisational, stop-and-go ditties like "God Must Be a Boogie Man," Mitchell dished out an astonishing array of moods, textures and rhythmic variations.

Her reggae-ish influences came out fluidly and intelligently on "Solid Love," while trademark confessionals - the eerie, emotive "Refuge of the Roads," for example - evoked the most passionate response from the audience.

Oddly enough, it wasn't her biggest hits - "Help Me, "Big Yellow Taxi," (solo, on guitar), "Woodstock" and "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio" - weren't the centerpieces of the show as one might have expected.

Instead, it was Mitchell's constant interaction with her audience, her little dipsy-doodle variations on familiar melodies that seemed to energize the crowd the most.

Mitchell gave her heart away like so much shared blood and connective tissue - she seemed to be saying that she'd been in all those places we've all been, perhaps more intensely or more deeply, but there just the same.

Somehow, she touched all the right nerves without really trying. And because she didn't try to be perfect, because she let herself be frail and vulnerable, she made everyone who saw her that much stronger in the process.

Ultimately, she made everyone care. And ultimately, that's why they went to see her.

It was, finally, a concert for love. And redemption.

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