LIVE: Joan Baez @ The Egg, 3/25/16

Review by Greg Haymes

She celebrated her 75th birthday in January, and Joan Baez’s once stunning, quicksilver soprano is gone, although at her sold-out-to-the-max concert at The Egg’s Hart Theatre on Friday night (March 25), she proved that she could still climb into her upper register with pitch accuracy on occasion. For the most part, however, these days, the silver is not in her voice, but in her hair.

But 55 years after her debut album, Baez has lost none of her talent for honing in on the right songwriters (and the right songs) to enable her say what she needs to say. She has lost none of her masterful skills as a song interpreter, making the most of her rich middle register and her impeccable phrasing. And most importantly, she has lost none of her steadfast convictions about making the world a better place.

She wasn’t preachy during her 90-minute show at The Egg. Heck, she was more than halfway through her performance before she even mentioned Donald Trump by name – and then it was simply to suggest that we should get together and pray for him and his supporters. She did, however, make it clear that Bernie Sanders is her horse in the race, and percussionist Gabe Harris (Baez’s son) sported a Bernie baseball cap.

Backed by multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell, she ventured into a variety of such social and political hot-button topics as immigration (Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee [Plane Wreck at Los Gatos]”), the Middle East (Steve Earle’s “Jerusalem”), women’s empowerment (Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”), voting rights and integration (her late brother-in-law Richard Farina’s haunting and powerful “Birmingham Sunday” and the big one – world peace (a final solo encore of the evening, John Lennon’s “Imagine”).

But this was truly a career retrospective concert, and Baez fearlessly dipped all the way back to her self-titled 1960 debut album for a pair of traditional gems – “Silver Dagger” and “House of the Rising Sun.” Grace Stumberg was tasked with the once unthinkable mission of providing the high vocal harmonies to Joan Baez, and she did a grand job with her intermittent duties. Baez introduced her as “my co-singer,” and indeed Baez afforded her lead parts in numerous songs, including the show-closing rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.”

Baez’s only original song of the concert was “Diamonds and Rust,” but it was an undeniable highlight. Performed with only Stumberg’s vocal support, it was the heartbreaking tale of Baez’s relationship with Bob Dylan in the ’60s. And in true Baez fashion, she immediately followed with a Dylan tune, the obscure, folk-fashioned “Seven Curses.”

This review is reprinted with the permission of The Times Union.

Freight Train (Elizabeth Cotten)
God Is God (Steve Earle)
There But for Fortune (Phil Ochs)
Silver Dagger (trad)
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bob Dylan)
Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) (Woody Guthrie)
From Galway to Graceland (Richard Thompson
Jerusalem (Steve Earle)
Catch the Wind (Donovan)
She Never Could Resist a Winding Road (Richard Thompson)
Me and Bobby McGee (Kris Kristofferson)
Birmingham Sunday (Richard Farina)
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (trad)
Diamonds and Rust
Seven Curses (Bob Dylan)
House of the Rising Sun (trad)
Do Right Woman, Do Right Man (Aretha Franklin)
Darlin’ Cory (trad)
The Boxer (Simon & Garfunkel)
Imagine (John Lennon)
Forever Young (Bob Dylan)

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