Joni Mitchell's landmark 1971 album Blue is often ranked among the greatest albums of all time. And in the pantheon of singer/songwriter albums I would argue Blue is right there alongside Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks as the greatest singer/songwriter collection ever.
So to attempt to take on the full album live, as Brandi Carlile did Monday, October 14, at Walt Disney Concert Hall, is a massive undertaking. As Carlile, a gifted storyteller, explained at one point, her friend Elton John, who was in attendance seated right next to Mitchell, called her "A crazy bitch," lovingly of course, for attempting this show.
But as John himself well knows, you don't achieve greatness in any art, without risk. So yes the risk was high. Even Carlile joked at one point performing in front of all her heroes was, "F**king terrifying." She also spoke of the "Joni effect," explaining, "You freak out when you know you're gonna sing in front of Joni. It's terrifying."
However, as everyone knows, the higher the risk, often times the greater the rewards can be. And Carlile proved that tonight, delivering a performance for the ages that will be remembered as much in her career as a landmark moment as it will be looked upon as a tribute to Mitchell's greatness.
While this was billed as Brandi Carlile sings Joni Mitchell's Blue, it was as much, if not more, about paying tribute to Mitchell. She walked into the seated area around 8:15 to a deafening standing ovation. She is the queen and these were her loyal constituents happy for just a glimpse of their hero.
Then after the lights dimmed and a long organ solo was played, a video screen came down that showed tributes from a wide range of artists, from Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, Bonnie Raitt and Tom Morello to Cameron Crowe, Graham Nash, Brittany Howard and oddly, ending with Marilyn Manson. All of the eclectic list choosing their favorite Mitchell lyric.
Finally Carlile came out to kick off the show with the album's opening track, "All I Want." After the joyful version, played with a five-piece band, Carlile took time to answer the question she said she knew everybody was wondering: "Why did she decide to do this show?"
As she explained there were a couple of reasons, the biggest being she thought fans would want the chance to once again see Blue live. "It's about getting to hear Blue live," she said, as of course Mitchell, who suffered an aneurysm in 2015 and has battled other health issues, can't play live anymore.
That was one reason. Another was simply to celebrate Mitchell. Carlile appeared at Joni 75 in Los Angeles last year and she said it was backstage that night she made the decision to do Blue.
To say Carlile is a massive Mitchell fan is an understatement, as she likened living in the same time as Mitchell as being akin to living in the same time as Rembrandt or Shakespeare. She very likely is right, as certainly Mitchell is already thought of as one of the greatest singer/songwriters ever, so it's been moving to see these tributes to a legend while she can be there to enjoy them.
What she saw tonight was a masterpiece. Given that she wanted to give fans the chance to see Blue live, Carlile, as she said, "Wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel." She stuck close to the originals, with masterful results throughout the ten songs on the album. But her versions of "Blue" and "River" were transcendent, earning her two of several deserved standing ovations on this night.
As Carlile said at one point, this has been a year of immense growth for her. Fourteen years after her debut album, she has finally broken through to the mainstream on the strength of hard work and real music. Her breakthrough moment of performing "The Joke" on this year's Grammy telecast was about one thing and one thing only, the soaring power of her voice.
Carlile is a vocalist of the highest order. And with that comes the gift of being a great interpreter, as she showed for example, performing earlier this year at the Chris Cornell tribute concert in Los Angeles. So when you take a truly gifted vocalist and match her with some of the most beautiful songs ever recorded, the results should be magic. And indeed they were.
The depth and beauty of Blue is so huge that Carlile called each of the back to back combo of "River" and "A Case Of You," "One of the greatest songs ever written." And she is right. When you look at the places those two songs have occupied in pop culture and the artists that have covered those songs or revered them, it is inarguable that each is in the conversation for greatest songs ever.
Again, as I say, you have a great vocalist covering some of the most beloved songs ever written. So it should have been the success it was. But as sports fans know, putting the most talented players together doesn't always work. You need that chemistry and those intangibles. The intangible on this night was Carlie's reverence for the songs. You could feel her love and adoration for Mitchell in every note she sang, which included an encore of "Shine" and her own "Party Of One," which she said she included as Mitchell influenced the song greatly.
By celebrating that fandom Carlile delivered a performance that not only did justice to one of the most beloved albums ever, she delivered a performance that will likely be celebrated for years to come.
This article has been viewed 638 times since being added on October 16, 2019.
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