Joan Baez, Rhythm VillageFox Tucson Theatre, Friday, Oct. 20
Joan Baez was onstage, her arms in the air, singing the chorus from Steve Earle's "Christmas in Washington": "Come back Woodie Guthrie," Baez sang, her voice crystalline, "come back to us now, tear your eyes from paradise, and rise again somehow."
Baez's backup musicians, bassist Graham Maby and multi-instrumentalist Erik Della Penna, were both turned toward her, and the audience was mesmerized. Only a smattering of people clapped at highly poignant moments--not because they didn't agree, but because no one wanted to interrupt even for a second Baez's powerful performance of the song. "Of course, I wish I had written it," said Baez afterward, as she reached for her guitar so that she could play her 93-year-old mother's favorite song, and someone in the audience said, "Doesn't matter, as long as you're singing it."
Baez's performance was infused with subtle and not-so-subtle political messages, delivered with a sense of humor. When she sang Elvis Costello's "The Scarlet Tide," with the chorus of "Admit you lied, and bring the boys back home," the audience erupted into applause, and Baez informed us that we'd passed the second test (the first was singing along to the chorus of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"). After an irony-enhanced and slightly more country version of Dylan's "With God on Our Side," an audience member cried out "Berkeley 1970!" and Baez replied that, no, it's actually 2006. But, she continued, though it's 30 years later, and our response to current situations is less than dazzling, "It's hard to dazzle a bunch of sociopaths."
Baez sang "Diamonds and Rust" with an added lyric of "If you're offering diamonds and rust, I'll take the Grammy," and after singing "Stand by Me," she philosophized that some songs get into our cells and get passed down to children genetically. The backup musicians left after Dylan's "Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word" (during which Baez did a perfect Dylan impression), and all alone on stage, Baez sang a cappella "Song of Peace," Lloyd Stone's version of Jean Sibelius' "Finlandia Hymn." After two standing ovations, Baez came back on stage and led the audience in a sing-along of "Amazing Grace," and it felt less like a spiritual revival and more like a singing lesson. Which is what Baez (as well as her son, Gabriel Harris, whose musical education project Rhythm Village opened the show with amazing West African dancing and drum music) is best at--teaching us all a little something through song.