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The Apex concert review
Both Sides Now: An Homage to the Songs of Joni Mitchell – The Apex, Bury St Edmunds
Without doubt one of the finest and most influential songwriters and performers of the past six decades, Joni Mitchell has a unique style that has seen countless music fans fall under her spell. Since her debut performing in local clubs in 1962 she’s gone on to conquer the world, much feted and admired by both her peers and the public alike. With a string of critically acclaimed albums to her name, Mitchell became one of the most recognised figures in Folk, her ability to mix in elements of Jazz and Pop, along with her own beautifully crafted lyrics, meaning that she crossed genres with natural ease and gained a wide fanbase.
With her last album of new material, her 17th, released in 2005 and a cessation of touring which was exacerbated by health issues, little has been seen of her over the past few years. The flame has still burned brightly though and her unannounced appearance at the Newport Folk Festival last year was an emotional return to the stage.
With a wonderful synchronicity, new production ‘Both Sides Now: An Homage to the Songs of Joni Mitchell’ has been launched onto the scene and it’s a thing of rare and dazzling beauty. With a stellar collection of vocalists and some of the best session musicians around, what started off as an instrumental take on ‘A Case of You’ birthed an album and now this scintillating live show that breathes new life into these much-loved songs. This is no attempt to directly copy the style of Mitchell in minute detail but instead each performer pays heartfelt tribute to the superstar, adding their own colours and favouring to the mix, cherry picking some of the many highlights of her career. With its appearance at the high vaunted and perfectly acoustic surroundings of Bury St Edmunds venue The Apex, those present were treated to an evening that will long last in the memory.
Sliding into the set, band leader and bass player Stefan Redtenbacher led his troupe into a cooly funked up ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, the guitarwork of Carter Arrington a joy and the dreamy ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand’ wrapped the hall in a wave of feel-good warmth. Hearing these songs stripped of their familiar vocals as the instruments fill in is an unusual prospect but one that soon becomes perfectly crafted, the deftness of the playing never eschewing feel for technicality. Mitchell’s material has always had such a strong, soulful core and first vocalist up, Mim Grey, put in her own nuanced and passionate talents to great effect, her voice on the evocative ‘Night Ride Home’ and an utterly bewitching ‘Two Grey Rooms’ just perfect, her phrasing wonderful.
With Mike Mayfield taking over on vocals and piano whilst keys player Pete Billington switched to Hammond, Mitchell’s arguably most famous track ‘Both Sides Now’ morphed from its gentle acoustic start to something a little fuller, the dynamics bring a heady rush of euphoria. It was a question as to whether bringing out such a big hitter so early in the set was going to cause the rest to be an anti-climax but when Jana Varga joined Mayfield for the constant ebb and flow of ‘Don’t Interrupt The Sorrow’ it became obvious that things were only just starting to get warmed up. A twenty-four-hour notice replacement for an ill Jo Harman, Varga was a revelation, her voice having the same purity of the late, great Karen Carpenter and when mixed with Mayfield’s the complimentary, yet different tones brought their own delightful sound.
Able to mix the aching with the sensuous and playful, Varga was able to turn the wooden panelled surrounds into a cathedral of beautiful noise and when Mayfield and Grey returned to join her in a uplifting ‘Our House’, the Graham Nash penned hit had never sounded quite so glorious. Elsewhere, curveballs were thrown in as the jazz funk of ‘My Old Man’ got feet moving and heads nodding, the drums of Mike Sturgis adding swing and groove and the dualling fretwork of Mayfield and Carter Arrington brought a slightly blues rock edge to proceedings.
Highlights kept coming, from the big, soulful vocals by Grey on ‘Little Green’ the singers power displayed as she moved the microphone nearer and further away to the almost Folk-Prog of ‘Free Man In Paris’ it was something of an embarrassment of riches. With the epic climax of ‘Woodstock’ and inevitable encore of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ closing the evening in euphoric style, this truly was a salute to an extraordinary talent by some extraordinary talent. Doing exactly what a good homage should do in making you want to dig out and rediscover the joys of Mitchell’s back catalogue, the evening had the dual result of a growing appreciation for all those who had poured their hearts out on stage that evening bringing these songs to sublime life. Joni would have loved it.