- Joni Mitchell wows audience in first headlining concert in two decades
- Mitchell’s remarkable recovery from a near-fatal brain aneurysm showcased
- The concert celebrated Mitchell’s life and work, characterized by joy and laughter
On Saturday night, Joni Mitchell performed her first headlining concert in more than two decades to a reception of adoration.
Until recently, the possibility of seeing the 79-year-old in concert appeared to be diminishing.
In 2015, she experienced a near-fatal brain aneurysm and had to relearn how to walk, speak, and play the instrument.
On Saturday, however, she performed for nearly three hours alongside notable fans such as Annie Lennox, Marcus Mumford, and Brandi Carlile.
The performance in Washington state was billed as a “Joni Jam,” recreating the wine-fueled sessions Mitchell hosted at her California home for other musicians during her rehabilitation.
“It won’t be someone coming up here and singing their songs one after another,” Carlile, who helped organize the performance, explained.
She compared the concert to peering into a miniature cabin inside a snow globe and witnessing Mitchell’s existence over the past decade.
Carlile continued, “[I’ve] witnessed one of the most miraculous things I’ve ever witnessed, and now you get to see it.”
This was Mitchell’s first ticketed performance since his Both Sides Now tour in 2000.
The venue was the Gorge Amphitheatre, a breathtaking outdoor arena with views of the cliffs leading down to the Columbia River; however, the stage was decorated to resemble Mitchell’s living room, replete with couches, lamps, side tables, and photographs of her cat and dog.
Mitchell sat in the center, dressed in a pink silk shirt with a floral pattern, with her hair in pigtail braiding and a purple beret, and carrying a cane with a small bear’s head.
She drank white wine between performances and grew more chatty as the night progressed, sharing entertainment industry rumors and interacting with Carlile.
The performance began with Big Yellow Taxi, eliciting an immediate singalong from the audience, before taking a stroll through Mitchell’s back catalog – from standards like Both Sides Now to deeper cuts like A Strange Boy.
Sarah McLachlan joined Mitchell for a heartbreaking rendition of Blue, Marcus Mumford Covered California and Annie Lennox performed a mesmerizing, synth-driven rendition of Ladies of the Canyon.
Additionally, she recalled how a flatmate introduced her to Mitchell’s music when she was 19 years old.
“It swept me away… “It led me down a path I never anticipated,” said Lennox. “Back in the day, there were so few women doing what we’re doing now. Don’t we take it for granted?”
The concert was unanimously characterized by critics as a jubilant celebration of Mitchell’s life and work. Since her aneurysm, many were amazed at how her voice had recovered and developed.
The New York Times’ Lindsay Zoladz wrote, “There was a renewed ease in her movement across melodies, and her tone had a pearly clarity.”
“To hear Mitchell hit certain notes again with that unmistakable voice was like catching a glimpse of a magnificent bird long believed to be extinct in the wild.”
“Mitchell fans are aware that her voice has changed – lowered and become grainier – since the high-and-pure days of Blue, but it’s a gift to hear how much (more) emotional wisdom her singing has acquired as she approaches 80,” concurred Mikael Wood in the LA Times.
“Her vocals sounded pristine on a slow-and-low rendition of Both Sides Now, which seemed to bleed wisdom when she wrote it more than half a century ago but now feels like an ancient rune”
“Mitchell’s performance lacks ego,” added Matthew Cantor of The Guardian. She never seems to take the evening too seriously, laughing and cracking jokes between tracks and praising the virtues of her fellow performers.
“This sets the tone for a joyful performance, though the significance of the occasion leaves many audience members and even some performers in tears.”
Disregard for Dylan
However, some of these emotions were tears of laughter.
Mitchell recalled the last time she had performed at the Gorge, in the late 1990s, while on tour with Van Morrison and Bob Dylan.
She stated that Morrison was unhappy that he was never invited to spend time with Dylan, whereas she was. “Bob is impolite,” she reassured him, “He enjoys being mysterious.”
The musicians then resolved to rush to the stage during Dylan’s performance and perform one of his songs against their will. When Mitchell approached the microphone, however, she forgot the lines.
“I told the guitarist, ‘You got it,’ and he sang the fourth verse,” she said to amusement from the audience. “I desperately attempted to recall the fifth verse. And I also could not recall this, so I made one up.”
“Bob turned around and performed a double take before glancing at me. The man was beaming from ear to ear.
Afterward. Morrison reprimanded her for her “disrespectful” behavior, but she argued that he had misunderstood her.
She used an unprintable expletive to say, “Bob loves to see me make mistakes.”
During Shine, the only indication of Mitchell’s protracted absence from the stage was the audience holding up their phones with the flashlights turned on.
Where did they acquire those lights? Mitch questioned Carlile.
She responded, “Cellphones”
“Cellphones? Really?” Mitchell remarked, appearing inspired. “That was quite a show… You resemble a shattered constellation… “Many thanks for that,”
Mitchell picked up a guitar at the end of her set to perform Just Like This Train and If, a remarkable feat considering she had to relearn how to play by viewing old YouTube videos.
However, she concluded the evening with a rendition of Young At Heart by Frank Sinatra, whose closing lyrics could not have been more appropriate.
“And if you live to be 105, consider all the benefits you’ll receive from being alive. Here’s the best part: if you are among the very / Young at heart, you have a head start.”
As Mitchell stated earlier in the concert, “Vive La Old Age.”