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Thursday, 25th May 2017
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Joan Baez at the Bridgewater

Joan Baez BridgewaterDespite the fact that my first LP was Joan Baez Vol 1 and I loved it dearly, circumstances and location all contributed to the fact that Iíve never actually seen her in person.  When I saw the tour dates and realised that we were both getting long in the tooth I decided that I needed to fill one of the seats in the Bridgewater Hall while the opportunity still existed. Joan was some what incapacitated in the recent past when she fell out of the tree house she spends a lot of time in at her home.

So along with a full house of my peers I waited expectantly for the lady herself to come on stage.

On she came and for the next 90 minutes we were treated to a torrent of songs that charted a straight line through her career and song list. To begin with she just came on stage with her guitar and played the simple, beautiful style that first established her in the American East Coast coffee houses. Flora, Lily of the West was on that first LP and it was just as fresh as it was then.

From then on most of the rest of the songs she was joined by her son Gabe Harries on percussion and the talented, multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell.  Dirk is presently to be seen on the new series of Transatlantic Sessions.

To have retained her voice as pure and clear for nearly 60 years of performing all over the world to big concert crowds is remarkable. She may not be able to hit the high notes quite as well but seems to have developed a few techniques that enable her to compensate.

The songs poured out with only a minimum of chat between them as introduction. Songs by Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello, Dirk Powell, Richard Shindell, Phil Ochs and her own came flooding out. I wonít churn them out here and I got the idea that it was a moveable feast that would produce a different set list on another night.

We got such as Scarlet Tide, Suzanne, Mary Magdalene. Particular highlights for me were There But For Fortune, Love is Just a Four Letter Word and Long Black Veil. Iím sure other nights will hear Reunion Hill or Forever Young.

The time just raced away and all too quickly the definitive songs in her repertoire heralded the end and 3 encores. Diamonds and Rust with all its searing honesty about the break up and aftermath of her relationship with Bob Dylan. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down with audience singalong and Imagine (Lennon was well served).

It all had to end though and the last one before the lights came up was inevitably another  of Bobís songs Blowing in the Wind. The crowd was not ready to abandon its standing ovations, but that was it for us.

Of the many outstanding performances Iíve seen at the Bridgewater I think Iíd have to say that this was the best by a long way. I always imagine a black-hearted soul brought out of the spite bucket and put in control of the house lights at this venue. The lights coming up never seem to match the crowd or the artistís expectations.

As a performer she is still matchless. Her repertoire through the years has been adventurous, precise and perfectly matched to her voice and style. Many people have gone out their way to provide her with songs. Steve Earle and Richard Shindell were both superbly represented.

One of the hardest working people on the night was her assistant Grace who walked on stage before every song with one of a pair of Martin Guitars, tuned and capoed for the next song. She then walked off with the old one ready for a retune and capo shift for the following song.

I went home a happy man and as I write this review, convinced that Iíve witnessed a little bit of folk magic.

- Stuart Cook




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