Review: ‘Joni Mitchell’

Joni Mitchell missed a great opportunity Thursday night when she failed to alter lyrics of one of her best-known songs to "They paved paradise, and put up a Western Heritage Museum." In fact, hits weren't the order of the day at an informal show in the Griffith Park facility's Wells Fargo Theater, broadcast throughout the nation as a promotional tool for her most recent album.

Joni Mitchell missed a great opportunity Thursday night when she failed to alter lyrics of one of her best-known songs to “They paved paradise, and put up a Western Heritage Museum.” In fact, hits weren’t the order of the day at an informal show in the Griffith Park facility’s Wells Fargo Theater, broadcast throughout the nation as a promotional tool for her most recent album.

Show was initiated and promoted by local triple-A station KCSA-FM (101.9), with syndication to approximately 100 triple-A, AOR and public radio stations coordinated by Warner Bros. in-house. (“Triple-A” doesn’t signify a farm team, exactly; term stands for Adult Album Alternative programming format).

“Turbulent Indigo” is the revered singer-songwriter’s first album in three years, and first for Warner Bros.’ Reprise label since 1971. There’s a bit of a Mitchell revival afoot, with current versions of her “Big Yellow Taxi” in release by Amy Grant and Clannad’s Maire Brennan, and of “Woodstock” by Tuck & Patti.

Mitchell didn’t perform either of those, or any other of her better-known early songs. Instead she concentrated on her more subtle work, with meandering melodies, literary lyrics and no perceptible hooks.

Theater’s proscenium stage was dressed to resemble an artist’s workroom. The walls decorated with paintings and a stand-up cutout of Roy Rogers peeping through the window.

Mitchell played acoustic guitar, sitting or standing, and proved herself a capable and charming — if nervous — host.

She chatted about her songs, the environ, and her own history as a cowboy-in-training (another set decoration was a stand-up cutout of herself, at age 8, dressed in Rogers gear. (Evidently, Gene Autry wasn’t as big in Saskatoon.)

Program featured songs from current album including “Sex Kills,””Yvette in English,””Magdalene Laundries” and “Sunny Sunday,” plus earlier numbers including “Cherokee Louise” (from 1980’s “Shadows and Light”), the title track from 1976’s “Hejira,” and a song called “Happiness is the Best Facelift.”

A slinky version of “Moon at the Window” (from 1982’s “Wild Dogs Run Fast”) was a highlight.

The use by Mitchell the composer of odd and different tunings for almost every number forced Mitchell the performer to retune frequently throughout; more conventional tunings or delegating the task might have resulted in a few more songs.

Joni Mitchell

(Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, Los Angeles; 140 seats; free)

Production

Promoted by KCSA-FM. Reviewed Jan. 26, 1995.
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