Live Review: Joan Baez

26 October 2015 | 12:21 pm | Sib Hare Breidahl

"Baez could have covered One Direction and the audience would have been just as enamoured."

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Throughout her life Joan Baez has preached peace, love and generosity through her music and political activism. At 74 years old, the generosity abounded as she welcomed the crowd to Adelaide Festival Centre, filling the stands as though it was a much more intimate venue. More than 55 years after her first album, the "voice of a generation", maintained her commanding presence that resonated throughout the hall as she showed off her immutable skills playing finger-picking guitar. Except for her famous soprano having been transposed down a few octaves to suit her now warm alto, you wouldn't know her age. She waltzed across the stage with her accompanist, multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell, and gyrated to Time Of My Life from Dirty Dancing, sung by roadie Grace Stumberg, an ode to the production with which she shared the Festival Theatre stage. Her generosity was patent, as she afforded Stumberg, Powell (who impressively played the guitar, banjo, mandolin, guitar, bass and skillfull accordion) and her son, percussionist Gabriel Harris a fair share of the spotlight.

Although there were perhaps a few too many Powell originals played, Baez could have covered One Direction and the audience would have been just as enamoured. Clad in skinny jeans, the ardour of the audience was evident as they eagerly accepted her invitations to sing along and offered three standing ovations at the conclusion of the show. Being the first person to ever cover Bob Dylan, it was only fitting that she include a few Dylan tracks in her repertoire, Don't Think Twice, It's Alright and It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. If there was ever any doubt whose version was stronger, none remains, with Baez outlasting the ever-touring Dylan in quality and soul.

Joan Baez is an activist who is easy to follow and never aggressive, her intense integrity and compassion shining through in her warm but strong affect. On the night of the liberal spill, she made a valiant effort to decode the tumultuous challenge of Australian politics, bringing her trademark calm and rational grace (as well as Gandhi quotes) to Q&A. She did not waste her second opportunity of a hall full of listening ears to offer more wisdom. Her political message for the night came as she urged Australia and the US to increase their intake of refugees, joking that Australia would also be facing a huge wave of American refugees should Trump win the next election, before launching into Woody Guthrie's Deportee, which received many appreciative whoops from the crowd.

Perfectly engaged with her audience of retired baby boomer hippies, she included a version of Goanna's Solid Rock, reading the lyrics in English and Pitjantjatjara while Harris played the didgeridoo, and finishing with Eric Bogle's And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. A truly enduring talent, Joan Baez marches on from strength to strength and her 2015 tour was a testament to her abiding talent and passion.

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