Joni Mitchell thrills crowd just by show­ing up


>> As an ador­ing-but-anx­ious crowd won­dered if she’d ap­pear at an all-star con­cert cel­e­bra­tion on her 75th birth­day, Joni Mitchell was stuck in traf­fic.

It was only fit­ting for a singer and song­writer whose mu­sic helped de­fine the ex­pe­ri­ence of mod­ern South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Glen Hansard could have been de­scrib­ing the guest of hon­our when he sang of “a pris­oner of the white lines on the free­way’’ in his ren­di­tion of Mitchell’s Coy­ote’

soon af­ter the show fi­nally be­gan, nearly an hour late.

James Tay­lor, Chaka Khan, Kris Kristof­fer­son, Ru­fus Wain­wright and Seal were also among those ser­e­nad­ing Mitchell with her own songs on Wed­nes­day night at the Dorothy Chan­dler Pav­il­ion in Los An­ge­les.

Mitchell didn’t speak or say a word all night, but just show­ing up was a tri­umph. For 3½ years, she has been al­most com­pletely ab­sent from pub­lic life af­ter an aneurysm left her de­bil­i­tated and un­able to speak, and lit­tle has been re­vealed of her con­di­tion since.

“You know, Joni has had a long and ar­du­ous re­cov­ery from a re­ally ma­jor event,’’ Tay­lor, one of Mitchell’s old­est friends, told The As­so­ci­ated Press be­fore the show. “But she’s do­ing so much bet­ter.’’

Mitchell needed help walk­ing i n and get­ting to her seat in a front cor­ner. The au­di­ence greeted her with a stand­ing ova­tion and spon­ta­neous cho­rus of Happy Birth­day.

The crowd’s love for Mitchell was matched by the artists them­selves, es­pe­cially the women, many of whom said Mitchell was much more than a mu­si­cal in­flu­ence.

“I want you to know how many times you have saved my life,’’ Khan said to Mitchell from the stage be­fore rip­ping into a siz­zling take on Mitchell’s Help Me, with back­ing from Wain­wright and Seal, who like other per­form­ers spent much of the night sit­ting on couches on a stage that looked like a liv­ing room.

“Joni Mitchell is an in­spi­ra­tion to ev­ery girl who ever picked up a gui­tar,’’ Em­my­lou Har­ris said af­ter singing Mitchell’s Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire. That in­spi­ra­tion ap­par­ently has its lim­its. Har­ris didn’t play gui­tar on the song, say­ing with a laugh that the “chords are too hard for me.’’

The songs were in­ter­spersed with pho­tos of Mitchell and au­dio clips of her speak­ing through­out her ca­reer, al­low­ing her to serve as the evening’s nar­ra­tor even as she re­mained silent.

Later in the evening, film di­rec­tor and Mitchell mega-fan Cameron Crowe pre­sented her with the Mu­sic Cen­ter’s Ex­cel­lence in the Per­form­ing Arts Award at a din­ner gala whose guests in­cluded David Gef­fen, Lily Tom­lin, An­jel­ica Hus­ton and Tom Hanks.

The con­cert brought four decades of songs that showed the twist­ing ca­reer path of the one­time Cana­dian folkie who be­came the quin­tes­sen­tial Cal­i­for­nia singer-song­writer be­hind al­bums like Blue and Court and Spark and then took her mu­sic to places her soft-rock con­tem­po­raries would never dare go.

Di­ana Krall showed the depth of Mitchell’s jazz in­flu­ence as she sat at the pi­ano and sang Amelia from 1976.

Kristof­fer­son and Brandi Carlile showed that Mitchell could be a lit­tle bit coun­try with their ver­sion of 1971’s A Case of You and its mem­o­rable cho­rus, “I could drink a case of you dar­ling. Still I’d be on my feet.’’

Mitchell’s Dream­land sounded like it was al­ways meant to be a Latin tune when Los Lo­bos with La Marisoul played it. And James Tay­lor’s solo acous­tic Wood­stock gave a nec­es­sary nod to Mitchell’s sim­ple hip­pie roots.

The only song not writ­ten by Mitchell was writ­ten for her. Gra­ham Nash sang Our House, his 1970 song about life with Mitchell when the two were dat­ing in their 20s.

As the show ap­proached its end, the cur­tain fell and the crowd chanted for an en­core. They went wild when it rose to show Mitchell stand­ing at the front of the stage in a long red coat, black hat and cane.

She blew out can­dles on a birth­day cake and swayed to the rhythm as all of the night’s mu­si­cians com­bined for 1970’s Big Yel­low Taxi.

“They paved par­adise, put up a park­ing lot,’’ they all sang, in a build­ing that was sur­rounded on all sides by park­ing lots.

It was par­adise any­way. At least for a night.

ALL-STAR TRIB­UTE: Joni Mitchell is pre­sented with a birth­day cake on stage at JONI 75: A Birth­day Cel­e­bra­tion on Wed­nes­day at the Dorothy Chan­dler Pav­il­ion in Los An­ge­les.

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