at Sanders Theatre
Joan Baez returned to her home turf on the 23rd of November with the maturity, sensitivity and variety that time has lent to her music.
In just under two hours at a soldout Sanders Theater, she quelled any doubt over the success of her comeback. That this triumph occured at Sanders is appropriate--nearly 30 years ago Baez gave her first non-club performance at the elegant Harvard auditorium, one of the first shows that launched her to stardom in the sixties and seventies.
Baez played songs from her new album, Play me Backwards, as well as an assortment of her old hit singles. She opened with a Dylan song before singing the haunting "Isaac and Abraham," a "Brazilo-Appalachian bible story" that resembled her old sound more than any of her new songs.
Baez's voice was breathy and earthy throughout the concert. It was strong and supple and showed an even greater octave range than in her heyday. Nowhere was this more evident than when Baez set down her guitar to sing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Her voice resonated with the strength of experience as it swelled to fill the theater without mechanized amplification.
Baez's musical style has drifted closer to pop. The upbeat rhythm of "Play Me Backwards," a song about child abuse, characterizes her move towards greater melody and rhythm. Another song from Play Me Backwards, "Amsterdam," demonstrated a gentle, caressing melody rarely heard before in her music.
Baez also played plenty of old favorites with newfound verve, including her chart-topping hit "Diamonds and Rust" and her joyous ode to life, "Gracias a la Vida." She had the audience clapping and joining in the chorus of "The Night Old Dixie Came To Town."
Time and again, the `Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' livened the show with her infectious sense of humor and wit. Repeatedly making digs at her age, of which she shows no evidence, and replacing her "10 years ago" lines with 30 years ago," Baez had the capacity crowd on the edge of its seat in anticipation of these subtle and humorous variations of her lyrics.
Baez, helped by the adoring crowd, revelled in her role as an entertainer. Every so often she would ease into a graceful, teasing dance, much to the delight of the audience. She told jokes, read some of her writing and chatted with the audience, cementing the easy identification she forged with her fans.
Two captivating hours, several songs, standing ovations and encores later, there was little to question about Baez's comeback. We always knew she had the credentials. The comeback attempt told us that she intended to add to them. Now we know that she can, and that she will.