Joni with Tom Scott
Alive, alive. I want to get up and jive,
I want to wreck my stockings
In some jukebox dive.
from Joni Mitchell's "All I Want."
Screaming and shrieking with delight rather than simply enthusiastic, adoring applause at a Joni Mitchell concert? Dancing in the aisles rather than sitting in quiet, respectful rapture? Rock 'n' Roll?
Surely - anyone who has seen the gentleness of Miss Mitchell's previous acoustic concerts here is thinking - there must be some kind of mistake. But it all happened - the screaming, the shrieking and even some scattered dancing - Monday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and even more so Tuesday night at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Amid the audiences - almost always a reflection of the performers themselves in rock - got the cue for their livelier demeanor directly from Miss Mitchell.
Yes, it's time to retire a few of those "delicate," "shy," "withdrawn" descriptions that we've always applied to Miss Mitchell's concert manner. In their place, we can substitute "vigorous," "flashy" and even "rocking."
It was, as you can see, a different kind of Joni Mitchell performance on the local stops of her current, two-month U.S. and Canadian tour. And, I think it was a more entertaining and fully realized one.
Not only was there a touch of flash in her clothes (in contrast to her subdued wardrobe on other tours, she came out both nights in a bright red halter dress with sparkly patters), but she was backed by an aggressive, jazz-leaning, five-piece band and her vocals were bolder and more exploratory than in the past when she was backed only by her own guitar and a piano.
But the changes didn't take away the sensitivity or intimacy of her music. The loveliness of such romantic, introspective songs as "Both Sides Now" and "The Same Situation" remained intact. The new, outgoing manner simply revealed the spirit that the singer-songwriter had expressed in such songs as "All I want" and "Carey," but hadn't shown so dramatically on stage.
The first hint of the new look came when Tom Scott and the L.A. Express, a versatile and clearly accomplished quintet, opened the show with a loud, highly rhythmic instrumental set. In previous appearances, Miss Mitchell was more likely to have an acoustic, folk-oriented singer-songwriter share the bill with her. Jackson Browne, for instance, appeared with her in 1972 at the Pavilion.
The group remained on stage to back Miss Mitchell on seven tunes before breaking for an intermission. On most of the material from the new "Court and Spark" album the Express' backing was nicely designed, but some of the arrangements of the older material seemed far too narrow. On "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio," for instance, the backing reflected little of the humorous, country feel of the recorded version.
After intermission, Miss Mitchell returned both nights for a nine-song solo set that featured not only some of her most engaging vocals of the concerts but occasional pauses between songs to explain, in a very loose, informal way, the incidents behind the tunes. She also updated the lyrics on some of the older ones.
On "Big Yellow Taxi," for instance, she changed the lyrics to reflect an attempt to remove some Canadian Indians from their land in the "name of progress, while on "Both Sides Now," she added - after "But now old friends are acting strange./ They shake their heads, they say I've changed" - AND I HAVE."
The Express then returned to back Miss Mitchell on the final seven songs, highlights of which included a rousing, fireball version of "Raised on Robbery" that caused the scattered dancing, and a free-wheeling, appropriately crazed rendition of "Twisted," the analyst's anthem. The standing ovations at the end of both concerts were thunderous.
Beyond the flash, however, the heart of the evenings remained the strength of Miss Mitchell's music. This tour, like the recent Bob Dylan/Band tour, points out - to a rock community so much in need of new direction - the importance of quality material. While her manner added to her appeal, it was her song that made the evenings so successful.
Though there are various themes in her work, most of her songs revolve around matters of the heart. No one, in fact, writes as consistently revealing and accurate portraits of the intricacies of love - from the tensions and insecurities to the optimism and celebration.
It is her music that makes Joni Mitchell a great artist. The new "vigorous, flashy, rocking" shadings are simply a welcome dividend.