Hayes Theatre, July 23


Like the stage itself, the opening rendition of Blue seemed candlelit, Queenie van de Zandt’s voice gently lamenting over Andrew Worboys’ piano. It immediately suggested we might be in for something special, and in fact it’s hard to imagine a better celebration of Joni Mitchell’s timeless artistry.

Perhaps that’s because the desire to create what van de Zandt called her “melancholy love letter” to Mitchell had been brewing for many years. The key was to pivot it around Joni’s avowal that all her songwriting was a substitute for the child she had to give up for adoption.

Photos: Scott Belzner.

The deftness with which van de Zandt interwove the story-telling and Mitchell’s songs exemplified cabaret at its most sophisticated. She could be charmingly amusing without breaking the spell, so the melancholy was briefly tinted with warmer colours, rather as Big Yellow Taxi blazed from the rest of the repertoire.

Before River she told us of Mitchell’s childhood polio, and then let her voice rear up near the song’s end like a tidal wave of regret. Her impeccable diction underlined the poetry throughout, while her singing was supple enough to negotiate the sudden melodic twists of Little Green, and offer a riotously vibrant Big Yellow Taxi (with expert backing vocals from Worboys) and an exultant Woodstock. The latter’s groove emerged from a spirited Hugh Fraser double bass solo, and was flecked with glistening electric guitar from Nathan Barraclough, who could have received more solo space across the show.

Van de Zandt delivered For Free, a finely wrought piece about a busker, alone and off-mike, and caught all the disarming passion of A Case of You, with its memorable refrain of “I could drink a case of you and still be on my feet.” Capping it all was the glorious translucence of her voice on Both Sides Now, which Mitchell knocked out at the tender age of 20. “I really don’t know life at all,” says the lyric. In fact she already knew it all too well.