JONI MITCHELL – ” At The New Vic “

Posted: March 3, 2021 in Classic Albums, MUSIC
Tags: , , ,
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While recording Court and Spark, Joni Mitchell had tried to make a clean break with her earlier folk sound, producing the album herself and employing jazz / pop fusion outfit L.A. Express as what she called her first real backing group. In February 1974, her tour with L.A. Express began, and performances were met with rave reviews as the entourage travelled across the United States and Canada and then onto Europe.

On April 21st 1974 they played a stunning show at London’s New Victoria Theatre, which was recorded for television broadcast in the UK and back in the US too.

Joni’s back up band, Tom Scott and the L.A. Express, took the stage as a support. It was odd that given the Express had lent such a distinctive sound to Mitchell’s two most recent albums – ‘For The Roses’ and ‘Court and Spark’ – that their music should come over sounding so bland and programmed.

It was time. Joni Mitchell strode on, smiled, gave a self-conscious bow and picked up her guitar.  Joni opened the set with “This Flight Tonight”  It was as if she was singing about the concert as much as some plane flight, her ambivalent attitude towards performing resulted in a somewhat shakey delivery of that first song. Then it was “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” and all the critics’ worries were swept away. The live version completely transcended the studio cut, Mitchell duetting with the lead guitarist in a beautiful piece of call and response the two of them soaring in perfect unity. Only since her arrival had the band begun to play with more than precision. She inspired them and they, in turn, brought a new verve to old Mitchell tunes like “Woodstock” and “Rainy Night House”. Songs from the new album “Court and Spark”, were heavily featured throughout, thankfully, being carbon copies of the vinyl version. In fact, on “The Same Situation”, she totally blew the number, mixing the melody up with that of a new song in the making. Joni seemed as surprised as we were and giggled at her mistake. The band stopped, she then jokingly sang “Again and again and again and again the same situation” before coaxing from herself and the group a straight and perfect version of an extraordinary song:

The second half was quite simply the best performance by a contemporary singer that it’s been my good fortune to witness. Joni sang about 14 songs, accompanying herself at the piano, with Appalachian harp, with guitar, and once again with the help of L.A. Express. Throughout she sang with unequalled grace: now quivering, now shrieking, now talking the lyrics in a manner that astonishes one how well it all fits together. The special highlights were “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” with a haunting off-stage solo from Tom Scott, a revamped version of her definitive romantic work “Both Sides Now” and the stomping finale “Raised on Robbery”:

The audience needed no second offer and they gave her a joyous standing ovation. She eventually returned and encored with “The Last Time I Saw Richard” followed by Annie Ross’ “Twisted”. Joni chatted about the song, as she had done earlier with “People’s Parties” and “For the Roses”, in a manner that displayed the intimate relationship she has with her audience. 

This record features the entire set performed by Joni Mitchell and LA Express that spring evening more 45 years ago, a concert which few have ever heard.

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