Concert Hall, September 20
The sniping right, which loves to lampoon the ’60s as the decade of self-indulgence, is blind to the benign optimism and the steely resolve that underpinned the belief in the potential for change. Indeed what attracted people to Joan Baez in those heady days, besides the ethereal voice and humanist ideals, was her conviction.
If that unearthly upper register has now faded, the conviction – devoid of dogma – still reverberates through every syllable. It is an innate honesty and belief in what she sings that transcends causes, so her delivery is as genuine and unaffected as the great blues artists; just sweeter and understated.
She began playing solo, reminding us that for all the celebration of her singing across 56 years she is also a finger-picking guitarist of suppleness and charm. Her voice, meanwhile, may have deepened and lost its vibrato, but her alto range has the consolation of warmth, earthiness and a latent urgency that was unleashed on the likes of the stunning Gracias a la Vida. Other highlights included Diamonds and Rust (remembering her relationship with Bob Dylan), surely the finest of her originals, and two by the man himself: It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue and Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, confirming that Baez, the very first Dylan interpreter, remains the best.
Her taste in other songwriters was hard to fault, too. She offered us Richard Thompson’s From Galway to Graceland, Tom Waits’ Day After Tomorrow, Paul Simon’s The Boxer, Eric Bogle’s And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda and Lennon’s Imagine, the latter two the only ones not to vie with the original versions in ultimate quality.
As well as performing solo she was joined by percussionist Gabriel Harris (her son) and multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell, while Grace Stumberg provided occasional backing vocals.
Baez indulged in no overt politicking, although Woody Guthrie’s Deportee (Plan Wreck at Los Gatos) had a particular resonance in this country, and Rowan Dean received a laughing serve for his performance alongside her on last week’s Q&A.