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Baez remains in fine form

Walt Disney Hall, Los Angeles, November 5, 2016

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

- It's easy to typecast Joan Baez as an old folkie. And the stereotype fits - to a degree. However, such a label doesn't go far enough in describing all of what this seasoned vocalist brings to the concert stage. Because much like Emmylou Harris, Baez is a lover of great songs (and a fine singer of the same). And she was in fine form tonight.

Baez was surprisingly apolitical during this near-presidential election tour stop. Sure, she wore Hillary-supporting Nasty Woman t-shirt as stage attire. She didn't, though, outspokenly endorse the candidate. Instead, she sang songs about social issues that were fairly universal and hardly controversial.

Naturally, this former Bob Dylan muse sang her biting breakup song, "Diamonds & Rust." However, she also covered a number of songs written by her long-ago lover. These included the chorus sing-along of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," as well as "Don't Think Twice It's Alright." But it was her singing of Dylan's "With God on Our Side" that was most moving tonight. It's words about how nearly every fighting force believes God is decidedly on its side during wartime, the lyrics can also easily apply to presidential candidates. Who's to say which candidate God would vote for, if allowed the chance?

While Woody Guthrie's "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" and the Negro spiritual "No More Auction Block For Me" offered up a few of this show's most serious social justice moments, Baez also sang some sensitive and personal songs. These included "Last Leaf," Tom Waits song about aging, and "She Never Could Resist a Winding Road," a fantastic Richard Thompson lyric concerning those that prefer the scenic routes (among other factors) in life.

Baez supported herself admirably on acoustic guitar (anyone that cut their teeth on the coffee shop circuit was nearly forced to get good at finger picking). She also sang beautifully, as she always has. She was backed by her son Gabriel Harris on percussion and Dirk Powell, who seemingly has never seen a stringed thing he cannot master. Grace Stumberg also harmonized and traded verses on a few songs.

One reason the old folkie descriptor is insufficient is because Baez is still discovering new songs. One song she said she particularly relates to is "Another World," an Antony and the Johnsons song, which she delicately sang. She also performed Josh Ritter's "Be of Good Heart Evermore," which is one she required a music stand and sheet music to make sure she didn't miss a word.

Baez's show tonight, on one level, scratched the itch of the nostalgic patrons. Better still, though, Baez's set revealed a still vital artist, always in search of top tier songs to sing.



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