Concert Review: Joan Baez – Aotea Centre, 20 October 2015

Another day, another 74-year old “legacy” artist is in Auckland to perform. This time it’s Joan Baez, who like Neil Diamond, who is also in town, has a wealth of material to draw from. Her performance at the Aotea Centre was a showcase for some of the finest songs ever written.

Again, like the previous night’s Neil Diamond show, there was no need for an opening act. Joan Baez strode, unassumingly on stage just after 8pm with her acoustic guitar. She looks fabulous and she wastes no time getting into the first song. “This was one of the compulsory songs in the coffee shops in 1958”, she tell the audience, reminding us both of where she comes from and how long she’s been doing this. The song is Freight Train, a traditional folk song, a wistful tune about hopping trains and leaving your mark in this world.

Joan BaezBaez’s voice is strong and clear. It’s grown a bit huskier over the years and that’s a good thing. She can still hit those high notes when she wants to.

What follows is a run-through of tunes by some of the finest songwriter who have put pen to paper…Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Kris Kristofferson, Richard Thompson…to name a few.

Joan’s own Diamond’s And Rust is performed without introduction mid-set….those delicious minor chords ringing out as Baez again reveals her feelings for her former lover.

It was a highlight among many.

Others included Woody Guthrie’s Deportee, with Baez reinforcing the relevance of the nearly 70 year old song, quoting both the Pope and Ghandi while addressing the current refugee crisis in Europe and The Middle East and joking that, if Donald Trump should get into office we should expect an influx of immigrants from the US.

Richard Thompson’s From Galway To Graceland was a welcome surprise. For this song and several others, Joan was accompanied by her young assistant Grace Stumberg on vocals.

Also on hand throughout most of the show were multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell and percussionist Gabe Harris, who is Ms Baez’ son.

Powell proved to be a particularly valuable asset. A recording artist himself, he switched effortlessly from banjo to piano to mandolin to accordion to bass.

Joan reminded us of her years working for the draft resistance, telling a story about spending time in jail with her mother and sister before performing Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.

She also paid a much appreciated tribute to New Zealand music with a beautifully-executed version of Purea Nei.   

The final quarter of the 90-minute show featured folk chestnuts like Joe Hill and House Of The Rising Sun along with a gorgeous rendition of Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, with Powell chiming in on mandolin.

Encores included John Lennon’s Imagine, and Joan’s biggest commercial hit, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

And just like that coffee house must have been like in 1958, there was a warm vibe as artist and audience sang together…the essence of Folk music.

Marty Duda

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Veronica McLaughlin:

Joan Baez set list:

  1. Freight Train
  2. God Is God
  3. There But For Fortune
  4. Silver Dagger
  5. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
  6. Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)
  7. From Galway To Graceland
  8. Me And Bobby McGee
  9. Do Right Woman, Do Right Man
  10. Diamonds And Rust
  11. Day After Tomorrow
  12. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
  13. Seven Curses
  14. Putea Nei
  15. Give Me Cornbread When I’m Hungry
  16. Joe Hill
  17. The House Of The Rising Sun
  18. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
  19. Gracias A La Vida
  20. Imagine
  21. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down