Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Alive As You Or Me

It's not often that we are among the youngest people at a concert, but we definitely were at last night's performance by Joan Baez. Backed by a three-piece string band, she greeted us with a hearty "Yes, we did" (no dissenters) and immediately launched into "The Lily of the West," a song she originally recorded in 1961 for her second album. The current tour simultaneously celebrates her 50th year as a performer and the release of her strong new album, Day After Tomorrow

While age (Joan is 67) may have claimed the ethereal soprano of her youth, Baez still has plenty of vocal chops and a more immediate, earthbound contralto. And then there's her taste in songs: As the hour-and-three-quarters show advanced, I found myself marveling at the depth of her catalog. There were trad folk and Dylan favorites ("Farewell Angelina" and "Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word") of course, but she also covered Eliza Gilkyson's lovely "Rose Of Sharon" and three Steve Earle songs. The Earle numbers included a surpassingly wonderful rendition of his great song "Christmas In Washington," followed immediately by a full-band version of "Joe Hill." 

I'd say that that was my favorite part of the show, but I don't want to diminish the rest of it. At one point, the band departed so that Joan could perform some solo numbers, eventually putting down her guitar for the a cappella rendtion of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." (Her final encore was leading us all in an a cappella "Amazing Grace.") And of course she graced us with the likes of "Long Black Veil," "Sweet Sir Galahad," "Diamonds And Rust," and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." She even threw in a lovely version of Donovan's "Catch The Wind" for the simple reason than that she likes singing it.

Along the way, she told humorous anecdotes of her past, such as the time she innocently sang a bawdy R&B number at a school assembly as her parents looked in horror. The tale of her and the band taking a cab on election night from a Virginia hotel to the White House, the cab driver honking in glee, made me think of what a great moment Obama's election must have been for Joan Baez. After fifty years of fighting the good fight and never giving up on people and never apologizing for her belief in human rights and simple peace and justice, she found herself dancing in front of the White House with thousands of her fellow citizens, celebrating a breakthrough even she must have thought was a long shot.

And this is what made the performance much more than an exercise in nostalgia. Joan Baez' journey as an artist and activist may have begun fifty years ago, but it continues now, with no sign of stopping...

More great photographs from Mike Urban of the Seattle P-I here...

Gail Collins, only half-jokingly, suggests that Bush resign now and let Obama take charge. With one caveat: "Vice President Dick Cheney, obviously, would have to quit as well as Bush. In fact, just to be on the safe side, the vice president ought to turn in his resignation first. (We're desperate, but not crazy.)"...

People seemed to like the video of The Original Schnickelfritz Band performing "Turkey In The Straw," so I managed to find a web site with more great performances here. The boys in the band were lead by one Freddie Fisher, the self-described "Colonel of Corn." They appeared in the "Gold Diggers" movies of the '30's and apparently had a following. Anyway, enjoy!...

Here, in a performance from the European leg of the current tour, Joan Baez sings "Joe Hill," one of my favorite songs:

8 comments:

Sylvia K said...

Oh, I have to admit I envy you! What a great concert it must have been! Thanks for sharing this one -- as always!

K. said...

It was pretty amazing to see an icon in an intimate venue like the Moore Theatre. Ancient seats, peeling paint, and all, it's still my favorite place in Seattle to see a show.

Foxessa said...

D.C. has brought Christmas early to so many this year ... Citigroup, etc.

But only coal for the Big 3.

Love, C.

K. said...

Billions for capital, not one cent for labor...

Molly The Dog said...

She was such an inspiration to me when I was growing up. I knew all the words to all her songs and used to listen to her with my ear up against the speaker, the aspiring singer that I was. We even had reel to reel tapes of her and Robert Zimmerman.

Kathy said...

It sounds like Joan Baez is ageless. I saw her perform in Ann Arbor in the late 60's at the height of the Vietnam War and was struck by how much better she sounded in person.

"Joe Hill" has always been one of my favorites too. Thanks for the video.

Martin Barslev said...

Joan Baez.
You are now the worlds greatest
singer.
I have bought "The Day after Tomorrow".
It is really the best CD I have ever heard. It is love.

Martin Barslev.
thought@mail.tele.dk

K. said...

Welcome, Martin.

It is really an outstanding CD, one that improves with repeated listening. I'm struck by how comfortable Joan is with contemporary material. Also, Steve Earle's production really plays to her strengths.