Joni Mitchell's quid pro quo with the forces of electricity finally brought her, with the "Court and Spark" album and the resultant tour (which became the "Miles Of Aisles" LP), kind of mass adulation she both loves and hates.
But that was two years ago, and her concert Sunday night at the Dane County Coliseum - although cast in the clothes of her appearance here in January of 1974 and more successful financially with a sell-out 8,682 devotees on hand, was considerably less glistening.
The opening tarnish was provided by the LA Express, which began the show with their characteristic studio jazz. The Express has lost ace horn player and arranger Tom Scott, whose style was derivative (mostly from the late King Curtis) but distinctive, and they are as technically competent but uninspiring as ever - though now thin and reedy rather than occasionally piercing, as when Scott was in charge.
Their work with Mitchell lacked the carefully crafted fire of the Mitchell/Scott charts, and they blatantly trampled on "Love Or Money," "Free Man In Paris," and the new "In France they Kiss On Main Street."
The contrast is critical, because Mitchell is a singer of words and must be heard and understood (or memorized) to be effective.
The problem is doubled by Mitchell's lack of musical gifts - her pitch is fuzzy, her tone cloudy, her voice - with the constant slide into the head - irritating, and her melodies and rhythms largely cut from the same cloth.
But unobstructed - as on "Big Yellow Taxi," "Real For Free," and the new "Coyote" and "Harry's House - Centerpiece," Mitchell's lyrics shine with wit and understanding. "Taxi" was sharp and biting (and not self-concerned as so much of her work is), "Real Good" colored her career ambivalence, "Coyote" her romantic determination and final vulnerability, and "Harry's House" her way with characters imprisoned in amber.
Other solos, however, did not work as well - the new "Shades of Scarlett Conquering" and "When Furry Sings The Blues" were little more than different words to melodies and lyric situations that have become Mitchell clichés.
In fact, Mitchell had an air of backing away from the spunky underpinning that made her music palatable to persons outside her cult following, and pointing back in the direction of the painfully preoccupied "Blue." Some kind of continuing is certainly called for, but Mitchell will have a hard time holding attention if she turns that way.
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Added to Library on March 14, 2021. (947)
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