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Feeble, spotty concert Print-ready version

by Steve Morse
Boston Globe
July 21, 1983
Original article: PDF

Photo by Stan Grossfeld

Boston has always been a supportive market for singer Joni Mitchell, but she foolishly betrayed that support with a feeble, half-hearted concert on the Boston Common last night.

A sold-out crowd of 10,000 fans was ready to welcome Mitchell back to the city with open arms, but instead was greeted by some of the shabbiest behavior seen on a Boston stage in quite a while.

The Canadian singer-songwriter was supposed to perform two long acts, but instead cut both drastically short, even walking off midway in the first because she was irked by latecomers. "It's one of my weird quirks that I can't play to people milling around," she huffed, unstrapping her guitar and leaving the crown in a state of shock.

Mitchell said she'd be back in 10 minutes but took 25, upsetting many fans who were under the illusion that this was to be an informal pop concert, not an Esalen Institute psychodrama.

When she finally returned, people sat nervously in their seats awaiting another outburst. The concessions to the rear of the outdoor site proceed to do ghost town business because didn't dare get up to move.

Tensions began to ease as Mitchell's second set kicked off with some keen rock-n-roll - she is definitely back rocking after a late-'70s love affair with jazzmen Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorious - but then she resumed her temperamental games.

Several times she wandered off stage during songs, stifling any momentum. Then she pulled another shocker by telling the audience: "Hopefully you can come back when we have our full lighting and staging, and when we can present it properly."

She and her entourage left immediately after the concert, negating any comment about her lackadaisical show, but one spokesman theorized she was thrown off kilter because she couldn't use her special abstract banners [her own painted design of waves on one side to signify her Malibu home and mountains on the other to signify her Vancouver residence] and lights which create mood effects by shining through banners.

However, that appears to be a flimsy excuse because all Boston Common performers have used the same stage design of the Boston skyline painted in the background, yet none has ever been as distracted as Mitchell was last night.

The tragedy is that there were some hints of solid rock n roll weaving in among the mind games. The first set was pretty much a write-off, even with 70s hits like the picaresque "Coyote" and the provocative "Free Man in Paris" stacked at the top.

The second, however, had its moments. Mitchell's new band started to get uncorked, especially the young wunderkind guitarist Michael Landau (who ranged from cutting metallic sounds to pretty high-pitched steel guitar simulation, textural keyboardist Russell Ferrante and authoritative bassist Larry Klein, who is Mitchell's husband.

The night's only unrecorded song "Banquet," [ed note: huh?] held special promise. Breaking from Mitchell's renowned confessional style, it was a vivid social commentary about how the Woodstock generation has grown up and now often watches the world go by helplessly just as their own parents did.

It was a challenging tie-in with a later rendition of Mitchell's famed ballad "Woodstock," in which she added a final verse about being compromised by "evil bargains" and that the solution is no longer and easy "let's get back to the garden" but is really "how do we get back to the garden?"

Sadly there just weren't enough of these sensitive moments. Mitchell has been able to bring tears in past concerts through her transcendent lyric writing, but the only tears shed last night were by fans who paid top dollar for tickets but got only a spotty performance in return.

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Added to Library on February 26, 2021. (283)

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