Some artists, like Bob Dylan, constantly reinvent themselves, taking on unrecognizable guises and directions. Others, like his ex-flame Joan Baez, stick to the same routine for decades. When you’re as comfortable at what you do as she is, however, that need not be a bad thing.
At the Lebanon Opera House, Baez charmed the older crowd with off-hand jokes and nostalgic stories about the sixties in between songs that, even when new, sounded like they’ve been around for centuries. Opening with a song of her upcoming album, “Rose of Sharon,” her voice proved to have mellowed with age, but not deteriorated. Though she is no longer hitting the high notes of her youth, to these ears this subtle singing is more tolerable than the shatter-the-glass soprano she used to be known for. Lending it to such softer staples as “Pretty Peggy-O” and “Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word,” the audience hung on each note as she performed them with grace and dignity.
Aside from a mid-set solo section, most songs featured accompaniment from a three piece band, playing bass, percussion, and various stringed instruments. With Baez known for her guitar plucking, the songs on which these other musicians actually added something were few and far between (the singalong “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” being the exception). In fact, they tended to stay in the background so much that, though one was glad they didn’t overpower her, one wondered why they were there in the first place. Michael DuClos on bass was the only player worth keeping, adding slow counter-melodies to Baez’s singing that you had to pay attention to to catch.
Overall, Baez aimed to please, and did just that. Classics like Diamonds and Rust and With God On Our Side (one about Dylan, one by him) were mixed in with newer covers by Tom Waits and Steve Earle, who produced her upcoming album. Other than a brief Obama endorsement, noting that she had never endorsed a candidate before, politics was kept to a minimum, coming out through the track choices about murder and war. Having been on the scene for half a century, Baez has no more need to push buttons or make statements. She just plays her music and invites the audience along for the ride.
Rose of Sharon
The Scarlet Tide
With God On Our Side
God Is God
Christmas In Washington
El Preso Número Nueve
(What a) Wonderful World
Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word
Day After Tomorrow
Diamonds and Rust
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
There But For Fortune