There are some performers whose audiences think they own them. Unfortunately, Joni Mitchell is one of those artists.
For nearly two hours Monday night, in a concert that was marred only by the severe lack of the crowd's self-discipline, Ms. Mitchell played music almost exclusively from her most recent four albums.
A dedicated professional, she put together an exemplary road band for her tour - Jaco Pastorius on bass; Pat Metheney on lead guitar; Michael Brecker, saxophones; Don Alias, percussion and drums, and Lyle Mays on keyboards.
Defiant in the face of critics who say that Ms. Mitchell's best material is her early work, the singer-songwriter played only electric guitar during her full and varied set. And there were some high points to the music.
Ms. Mitchell's tribute to Amelia Earhart, "Amelia," was subdued on the album version. With the addition of Pat Metheney on guitar, Mitchell's concert rendition of the song simply soared, touching the ether and the altitudes depicted in the composition.
Probably in the hopes of curtailing unwanted audience calls and hoots, Mitchell spent little time conversing with the crowd, and the songs in the wellrehearsed show blended smoothly from one to another. Each of the musicians in the band had ample chance to display his solo talents.
But it was Pastorius who made the audience sit up and blink twice. He has made the fullest and finest use of all the electronic devices available to the electric bass player, and he played the dials of his machines as skillfully as the guitar strings. Pastorius has accompanied Ms. Mitchell on her last three albums, as well as continuing to be one of the prime forces behind the jazz group, Weather Report.
From her latest album, "Mingus," Ms. Mitchell played only three numbers, those wich translate into live performance the best - "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," " The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines," and "God Must Be a Boogie Man." On those pieces, and most noticeably "The Dry Cleaner," her voice soared and never sounded better. And she seemed the most enthusiastic about them.
Perhaps it is the very personal quality of Ms. Mitchell's lyrics that give the audience the feeling that it has the right to demand talk and certain songs during a performance. But ultimately the crowd paid for its actions by seeing and hearing a superficially subdued Joni Mitchell.
Musically, however, she was riding high the entire evening. "Hejira," with Brecker's superb saxophone work, and "Furry Sings the Blues" were far better in concert than on record. And "Dreamland" (from "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter") gained depth from the live performance.
However, the crowning achievement of the evening's music was the last piece of the set, "Shadows and Light," from the unfortunately underrated album, "The Hissig of Summer Lawns." On the album version, Ms. Mitchell overdubbed her own voice for as many as 16 tracks. In Monday's concert, fullness and depth were provided by the inspired and rich voices of the Persuasions, her opening act.
Mays' synthesizer added an awesome organ sound that for a moment transformed the Memorial Coliseum into a cathedral.
Although I wouldn't have traded a moment of my time at Ms. Mitchell's concert for anything in the world, I suspect that this tour may be her last. The audiences' demands seem to grow more overbearing and frantic with each new tour, and it must be difficult for her and her company to tolerate many nights such as that.
Still, there are very few singer-songwriter-performers who can touch the level of quality and artistic courage that Ms. Mitchell consistently maintains.
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Added to Library on June 18, 2002. (6752)
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