Joni Mitchell (Greek Theatre; 6,162 seats; $88.50 top)
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Midway through her Greek Theatre performance with a 70-piece orchestra, Joni Mitchell remarked she was relieved that the show wasn't "too much classicism" (sic) for her fans.
The audience was more than willing to follow the mercurial singer into new musical territory and appeared to be familiar with Mitchell's new album, "Both Sides Now" (which was performed in its entirety); where the two-hour show faltered was in the interaction between Mitchell and the orchestra.
The problem wasn't in Mitchell's (and arranger Larry Klein's) conception, but in the follow-through. From the overture, an over-long piece of program music so lush and chilly it could have served as the score for Dr. Zhivago, the orchestra sounded stiff and under-rehearsed.
When Mitchell arrived on stage in a dramatic, caped, mauve outfit, it was obvious they were even less comfortable performing with a singer then they were with each other.
And Mitchell's vocals on "You're My Thrill" and "At Last" found her tentatively looking for some common ground. But early on, none was to be found: She gamely tried to swing against the orchestra's stiff reading of "Come Love"; on less rhythmically grounded songs such as "Answer Me, My Love," no one even heard the question.
Matters improved whenever pianist Herbie Hancock sat in. His buoyant playing acted as a bridge between Mitchell and the band, giving the singer an intimate familiar sound to work with while taking some of the focus off the orchestra, turning "Sometimes I'm Happy" and the encore of Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" into the evening's most musically satisfying selections.
With her voice scarred by years of cigarette smoking (she lit up during the encore), Mitchell is more than up to the task on melancholy classics such as "Don't Talk to Strangers'' and "Stormy Weather.'' Surprisingly, she was least at ease performing her own compositions, her vocals becoming mannered and stilted, as if she felt she had to oversell "A Case of You" and "Hejira."
Mitchell told the crowd that she is planning another album of standards. When she returns, she would be better served by a more intimate band with a small orchestra providing tonal color.
Presented by TNA (USA) Inc./SFX, reviewed May 12, 2000 Band: Chuck Berghofer, Peter Erskine, Herbie Hancock, Mark Isham, Wallace Roney, Bob Shepherd, and orchestra, Vince Mendoza, conductor, Larry Klein arranger/musical director.