Rychard Carrington reports on Joan Baez - Cambridge Corn Exchange, 24 February 2012

Joan Baez
Cambridge Corn Exchange, The


It was good to see the Corn Exchange sold out for the second night of Joan Baez's lengthy British tour, and particularly good to see a wide age range in the audience. While Joan's distinctive vocal style has obviously contributed greatly to her success over the decades, it is what she stands for that is surely the biggest attraction. While Bob Dylan decisively rejected the role of spokesperson for folk protest, Baez has continued to personify the values of the movement, much as they were in the early 1960s. Music plays a crucial role in bringing out the powerful emotions implicit in political concerns, and the sense of commitment from the heart is expressed most particularly in folk protest, and especially in the performances and persona of Joan Baez. Attending the concert not only provided the audience with the treat of seeing this emotional power being elegantly delivered, but also of connecting with a movement that is both an important part of recent cultural history and an ongoing influence.


Joan is now seventy-one, yet her vocals retain their strength and charm, and her enthusiasm for performing live is evidently genuine. Her set of an hour and a half included several numbers which featured just Joan's voice and guitar, as well as others featuring accompaniment from multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell and percussion from Joan's son Gabriel Harris. The show commenced with Steve Earle's very thoughtful God Is God (recorded by Joan on her most recent album, 2008's Day After Tomorrow). Rather than plug her recent material, though, Joan sang mostly well-known songs by some of the greatest songwriters of recent times; some of these songs being particularly associated with her, others not. Thus Farewell Angelina, God On Our Side, Catch The Wind, Suzanne, Long Black Veil, There But For Fortune, Joe Hill (dedicated to the Occupy movement), House Of The Rising Sun, Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word, Jerusalem (Steve Earle again). Two little known songs were highlights, though: Richard Shindell's witty The Ballad Of Mary Magdalen and Dirk Powell's sensitive Just The Way You Are. Joan's own tribute to Dylan, Diamonds And Rust ("hearing a voice I'd known / fifty years ago") ended the main set. The encores The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Imagine and Blowin' In The Wind, were punctuated by standing ovations, a deserved tribute to a woman who has moved many people deeply, using music as a humanising force for good as very few others have.  


Writer: Rychard Carrington


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