25th March 2012
Joan Baez – guitar, vocal
Dirk Powell – guitar, mandolin, banjo, accordion, piano, acoustic bass guitar, violin, vocals
Gabe Harris – percussion
God is God
Be Not Too Hard
Lily of the West
With God On Our Side
Hard Times Come Again No More
Catch The Wind
There But For Fortune
Swing Low Sweet Chariot
The House of The Rising Sun
Love Is Just A Four Letter Word
Long Black Veil
Gracias a La Vida
Diamonds & Rust
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Blowin’ In The Wind
Joan Baez … definitely rock / folk royalty, and I’d never seen her before. In the 60s I dutifully bought her EPs, but that was in my folk club days when a piercing female voice and old ballads were the thing. For a dedicated fan of The Band it was hard to forgive her hit version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, with its manglings of the lyrics. In her favour, she did it the folk singer way, which is you don’t switch the gender in the lyrics. Rock singers can’t seem to adopt a persona of the opposite gender, and you get strange gender shifts in the lyrics (though it works with Then He / She Kissed Me). Bob Dylan had no problem singing It’s been the ruin of many a poor girl, and me, oh, Lord, I’m one in House of The Rising Sun, and Joan Baez had no problem singing Virgil Caine is the name … in The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Nevertheless, I was always sniffy about her version.
The first thing to say is I prefer her current voice to her early 60s one. It’s full, and rich, and while she still hits all the hard notes, it’s not as piercing. A 71-year old in tight jeans, looking fit, playing beautifully and singing like a dream. She also had it clear on the ticket: Please note no support and no interval. The Civil Wars could take note, and she also did half an hour more than them, and responded to the 100% standing ovation by adding a third encore, which not every venue got. AND it was Blowin’ In The Wind, which for some reason made my eyes well up … This is JOAN BAEZ … and this is … Blowin’ In The Wind … sung perfectly.
The set lists from previous gigs on line amused me, particularly the note on one that House of The Rising Sun was “The Animals cover.” She starts solo for three numbers before bringing on Gabe Harris (her son) on percussion, and the multi-instrumentalist, Dirk Powell. He impressed on everything he touched. I’d guess mandolin got most use, followed by guitar. But he also played piano on at least three, accordion on one, banjo on one, acoustic bass guitar on three, and violin. Instrumentally, the bits that really knocked me out were his acoustic bass guitar and solo in House of The Rising Sun (OK, she doesn’t have to switch lyrics in that one) and the violin throughout Long Black Veil which he also sang along with. It was a brilliant version of the song which Lefty Frizell, The Band, Johnny Cash, Mick Jagger and Tom Jones have all covered, and obviously she’s nodding to The Band version in mood. She announced it as a country song, but to be accurate it’s a pastiche country song, written by Marijohn Wilkin. In fact there’s a female lyric version available: Marijohn Wilkin followed up the Lefty Frizell first recording with an answer song: My Long Black Veil. But Joan’s too much of a folk singer to feel the need to shift. And anyway it’s not as good.
(ADDITIONAL NOTE: I’ve just been told she started performing the song in 1963, five years before The Band recorded it on Music From Big Pink, but there’s something about her approach, and perhaps the jauntiness of the violin that reminds me of Rick Danko’s vocal, and The Band’s version).
One thing ran right through. Like Paul Simon, she has perfectly clear diction, and sings every song for its lyric, which she clearly values and expresses. The set list was brilliant. A couple of good old early 60s protest movement staples: Swing low Sweet Chariot (she told us about singing it to Martin Luther King) and Joe Hill. A nod to Britain with Catch The Wind (she was in the room when Donovan was filmed pitching his stuff to Dylan) and Elvis Costello’s Scarlet Tide; plenty of Dylan … Farewell Angelina, With God On Our Side, Love Is Just A Four Letter Word, Blowing In The Wind. Then Diamonds and Rust to end the main set, and that’s an “about” song. Judy Collins did it here last year, as she did Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, also in Joan’s set.Two Band associations in Long Black Veil and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. A John Lennon nod in Imagine, which was a singalong. A slightly difficult singalong as she changed all the “I” s to “We”s. Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again No More was an unusual item in the set, and like Stag-O-Lee she read the lyrics from paper (no teleprompter for her, and she was faultless on the others).
So what about The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down? In an old interview she explained she’d learned it from the record, and no lyrics were available, which means she had a decent stab at them. She also says she now sings it as it was written. Well, she did it so well that the remaining hairs stood up on my head with the thrill of hearing it live, so I in fact loved it, BUT she didn’t sing the right words. She corrected “so much cavalry” to “Stoneman’s cavalry” fine, and had ‘Robert E. Lee’ (the general) not ‘The Robert E. Lee” (the paddle boat) . But she retained her “I took a train to Richmond. It fell” instead of “By May 10th Richmond had fell.” In fact, to most listeners not steeped in The Band, I finally will admit that her change makes more sense AND is easier to sing. She also retained her “I’m a working man” in place of the correct “I will work the land” and “the blood beneath my feet” instead of “the mud beneath ny feet.” Obsessive? Moi? Well, I have written extensively on the song. Link here. Did it matter? No. we sang along. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves with mass “nah nah nahing.”
She has a fabulous personality. She worked hard for nearly two hours, told us stories, made us feel at home. And she is … JOAN BAEZ.
A Great Crowd in Poole …
And it was. A general thing on venues. Artists often say “It was a great crowd in (X)” assuming everyone in the audience lives there. For me, Poole is my home town, and The Lighthouse Concert Hall is the home of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra with large seats, good rake, lots of legroom and a good acoustic. But waiting to go in, dozens of confused punters were trying to go in the theatre doors, not the concert hall doors (both theatre and concert hall come off the same public area) indicating that the “great crowd in Poole” (which it was) had many, many out-of-towners. which at most venues, is our position. Like last time in Bristol, the time before in Petersfield and next time in Winchester.
Some discussion about this review was generated on The Band Guestbook (the band.hiof.no) and I’ve cut and pasted it here:
In her book “a voice to sing with” she mentions that her voice no longer hits the high registers (it is still incredibly beautiful), is there any truth to this in concert? This may be one reason that she didn’t sing “Silver Dagger,” as it is in that soprano type register. “However” from what I recall she still sings fairly high.
I’d have liked to hear Silver Dagger too. Someone called out “We Shall Overcome” but she just smiled. It’s reserved, I should think, for appropriate times. If she had sung it, I’d have to have marched off to occupy a public building and the only near one in Poole is the bus station, which has too many dodgy characters at that time of night!
Joan Baez takes everything lower down … but it sounds richer. She can soar up there, but she doesn’t have that high pitched sound. She’s dropped down quite a way, which is much better than trying to hit stuff and missing … which she never does. There But For Fortune is another that was originally quite high (from memory) and Farewell Angelina was from that era … but they sound great lower. If she’s coming your way, definitely she’s an artist who is still up to the grade!
Peter: Ms. Baez first began performing The Long Black Veil solo in concert in early 1963, with a live version appearing on Joan Baez In Concert Part 2 released later that year. She subsequently recorded a studio version in Nashville in the ’70s with musicians led by Grady Martin. I can’t recall, but that version may have featured fiddle.
Peter – did she sing “Dixie” a capella? When I saw her about 12 years ago, I think it was(perhaps even longer) it was her second or third song. I’ve heard from others who’ve seen her more recently that she usually does it sans musicians or backup singers. I had the exact same experience of dissecting every line she sang and noting what she’s changed in it – how could I not?!
Joan did The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down as the first encore, and did it with piano … as Robbie Robertson composed it. I can’t recall whether she put her guitar down, but I think she did to conduct the singing. So I think piano (rolling, magnificent) plus the light percussion from her son Gabe, who only had the wooden box he was sitting on, a cymbal and bongos as far as I could see, and the bongos barely got used too. If you’re going to use one instrument for Dixie, piano’s the one.
The use of acoustic bass guitar (brilliantly) was unusual. I heard it said jokingly that they were invented for “Unplugged” as so many bass guitarists can’t play double bass (or unfretted), but I can see people wanting them for practice. It had a fabulous sound … neither like double bass nor electric bass guitar. I think he had an acoustic guitar pick up on it. Having heard it, I’m surprised they aren’t more common.