Joni Mitchell leads an incredible band on this date recorded live in Santa Barbara during her 1979 tour. There have been better rock bands and better jazz bands, but never before or since has such a significant rock artist fronted as talented and sympathetic a working jazz ensemble as this aggregation of Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, Don Alias, Michael Brecker and the Persuasions. Not only does this DVD record a great performance, it captures a moment where the lines between folk, rock, blues and jazz had been sufficiently erased to allow for this unique blending of styles and traditions.
The program opens with "In France They Kiss on Main Street," Mitchell's paean to the early days of rock and roll, complete with footage from Rebel Without a Cause
and of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. This is as straightforward a rocker as the set contains, and there's nothing really straight about it. A young Pat Metheny solos quite nicely here, hitting some good rock notes while using jazz scales and chords. Both individually and collectively, everyone shines here. Joni's reading (with sparse accompaniment by Metheny) of "Amelia" is heartbreaking, and her singing and playing are flawless all the way through. Jaco Pastorius is the perfect bassist for this music, filling in the spaces left open by Mitchell's guitar on songs like "Coyote" and "Hejira" without compromising the rhythm and he turns in a monster performance on "Jaco's Solo", interpolating his patented version of Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone From the Son." The trio of Brecker, Pastorius and Don Alias provide the perfect jazz-blues underpinning for Joni's stand-up Las Vegas narrative "Dry Cleaner from Des Moines" and the call and response with the Persuasions and Lyle Mays drive the set-ending title song.
The cinematography here is creative, though a little dated by post-MTV standards. Stock footage is used effectively on "Amelia", and the figure skating sequence on "Hejira" adds to the song's beauty. Joni only includes two obvious hits, "Raised on Robbery" and "Free Man in Paris" but the crowd appreciates everything she does, from the doo-wop cover of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" to her personalized reading of "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." It is rare for an artist as commercially successful as Mitchell was in the mid-seventies to take the kind of artistic chances that she did, and it is even rarer for them to pan out as well as they do here. Snap this one up while you can.