Sunday, April 04, 2004This Friday night, we saw Joan Baez perform at Northwestern University's Pick-Staiger Concert Hall in Evanston, a spacious-but-intimate 1000-person venue packed with
Joan was still in fine form, gypsy-elfin in a red velvet waistcoat and orange silk turban, somehow pulling off the miracle of sounding clarion-strong and bell-clear despite a head cold. At one point she told the audience, "I'm going to leave the stage for a few moments to blow my nose, so these guys will now play you the "Nose Blowing Dance" for your enjoyment..." - whereupon her agile 4-man backup band vamped a rockabilly blues instrumental number until she returned, skipping slowly back to center stage. Whatta trouper.
Her opening act was an unusual one-woman show, Erin McKeown, who sounds like an American Björk channeling the spirit of Duane Eddy: a simply amazing young guitar player, alternating between a mini hollowbody Gretsch and her electrified acoustic.
Highlights of the show included "There But for Fortune," Steve Earle's "Christmas in Washington," "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," (complete with a verse where Joan lovingly imitates Bob Dylan spot-on, as only a compatriot could do) and a gorgeous, updated version of my favorite Joan Baez song (which I first heard as a cover version by Judas Priest) "Diamonds and Rust." For the encore, she joined her bass player and lead guitarist for a fresh acoustic take on "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," surprisingly ear-wormish and catchy, even today.
Joan's ever-political sense of humor took a hilarious turn at one point with a shaggy-dog story, whose punch line involved a microsurgeon, a cowboy hat, a horse's behind and the current occupant of the White House. She also played some songs from her new album, "Dark Chords on a Big Guitar," as well as numbers from all eras of her 45-year career; she's so familiar with her audience and laid-back that it feels like you're at a coffeehouse show with a legend.
If there's something I've learned about concerts, it's to never turn down a chance to see a legend.