The much awaited film in tribute to Joni Mitchell. I was slightly surprised to find it is a film of a live concert rather than a full career retrospective which is what I’d expected. With this in mind, it all comes down to the quality of the performers as the material, we can assume, is impeccable. First the band – as great as you’d expect, led by drummer Brian Blade who is good in everything he lends his sticks too. Also nice to see Scarlet Rivera on violin and occasionally piano and Greg Leisz as ever quite superb on steel, lap and guitar.
First up to the mic is Norah Jones, not at the piano, singing “Court and Spark”. Opening the show and with that song is a big ask and Norah looks faintly terrified. Her voice doesn’t soar, rather adopts the husky tones Joni acquired later in her career after decades of tabs. An OK start but…. Then we have Diana Krall doing a jazzy version of “Amelia”, but where I expected it to really float it kind of hangs in a reverential state of limbo, lovely, but unsatisfying somehow. Rufus Wainwright does a karaoke version of “Blue”, every nuance of vibrato faithfully reproduced but odd sounding because of it. Emmylou senses the atmosphere with the 6th sense born of a career of gigging and gets a laugh by introducing “The Magdalene Laundries” with a comment that she is now going to lighten the mood with a song about unmarried mothers in servitude. She is radiant. Glen Hansard (Who? The bloke out of “Once” and “The Commitments”. Oh) does a good upbeat “Coyote” which finally changes the mood for something a bit more fun. It’s all been a bit exquisite and reverential, but Joni has a lot of playfulness and fun in her music and this is all too funereal. James Taylor, oddly, does “River” rendering it more like a JT B side than a Joni classic. Los Lobos blow the roof off with a storming version of “Dreamland” with La Marisoul on vocal, and Chaka Khan’s “Help me is also thrilling for the redefinition of the song (we can forgive the squirm inducing sincerity of her pledge of love to Joni, sitting in the audience) pluse she’s just such a charismatic performer. Seal does a sensational “Both Sides Now” which triggers dust in the cinema, and rightly gets a standing ovation. Song of the night for me. Old lover Graham Nash appears and does the only non-Joni song and it’s “Our House” of course, cue backdrop photos of him with Joni inevitably in Laurel Canyon. Then to my surprise Kris Kristofferson, clearly very frail and unwell, is led on by Brandi Carlisle to sing “A case of you”. “You start and they’ll follow you” whispers Brandi whilst looking at the band. I am anxious at this point. Surely he’s not going to blow it? He doesn’t. The KK voice was never a thing of great beauty (though I love his albums) and now it is broken and cracked beyond repair but it is stunningly wonderful and Brandi joins in, Joni-esque, for some of the high bits to produce a deeply moving performance which rightly gets a standing ovation. KK is clearly delighted to be there and my earlier misgivings are replaced by hot tears. Sensational. Acts return, people sing in combinations, Norah plays the piano and sounds more confident and as you’d expect the whole ensemble sing at the end, “Big Yellow Taxi” being the song of choice. Joni takes to the stage at the end, looking very happy.
It’s a lovely film of celebration of her music, with some genuinely affecting high points and some spots where it doesn’t work quite as well.
It made me think..
Get the DVD. The high points will bear a lot of re-watching. Some of it you can skip (especially some of the toe curling spoken tributes and a dreadful clip of a young Joni whining at the audience at a festival somewhere (with no trace of irony) that she had just been to a Hopi Indian ceremony in the desert and there were people there who were like tourists and the audience were acting like tourists and just show some respect. That’s us told then).
Odd that David Crosby wasn’t there, given his role in her career but maybe Graham Nash had a veto?