Joan Baez "Fare Thee Well Tour"
Boch Center - Wang Theatre
September 15, 2018
I was in an alternate universe the moment she walked onto the stage.
Let’s start out with how is it possible that a voice that began electrifying people nearly 60 years ago is still a thing of beauty, fully capable of moving an audience to tears and laughter washed with diamonds and rust. She may be a relic but she sure can still rock the house.
Thirty seconds. That’s all it took for me to fall in love with the contralto of her new old voice, with its gravelly edge softening the angelic soprano of yore. She’s not shy about being 77 years old. Hell that’s the point, that’s why she’s here. With dark humor and personal anecdotes, with the songs she chooses and ease of talking to us as if we were at the kitchen table, she’s pointing a light down the tunnel of mortality. Hers. Ours. Mine.
To have that gift of a once in a lifetime voice is wonder enough. And the sound is enough to pitch you into another time zone. The woman is in the rare company of singers who defined a generation of activists.
The vibrato and tone of that voice is recognizable within seconds. She freely talks about sliding her voice down a range to a still supple contralto with that familiar trademark vibrato that makes me shudder with delight when I hear it.
Just as I’ve come to terms with Joan’s new normal, she reaches up to the stars and down into a small sweet spot still residing in her vocal chords to nail those soprano notes that put her in her own universe. I would have been able to hear 3500 jaws drop if not for the reflexive collective roar that came from our own throats.
Collusion is a huge buzz word these days and there’s Joanie up there colluding with age to downshift, without losing speed, to share that voice with us in the home stretch of her journey, burning every last drop of fuel left in the tank. A drop in octave doesn’t mean a drop in octane.
I love her for the way she makes me feel. A huge a la carte carousel serving joy, pain, indignation, sorrow, laughter, social justice, camaraderie with people on the margins, evoked with a voice of compassion, forgiveness all the way to in-your-face righteousness. For ninety minutes I am a tuning fork, resonating deeply with thoughts and feelings that flow like currents in the subsurface of the aquifer of my psyche.
Who melds wistful and hopeful better than this woman? Tonight in easy patter from the stage, she recounts loves, losses, causes, and her sense of social justice and the way she has bridged them all from the past to the present – universal and personal, poignant and powerful, with a palpable generosity of spirit.
Leaning forward, elbows on her knees and hands cupping her face, the woman next to me is in a world of her own with Joan. Her husband in the next seat is mouthing the words to every song.
Joan doesn’t call this a Fare-Thee-Well Tour for nothing. It feels like she’s picked songs to be sung at her own wake. And don’t think for one skinny minute that we aren’t thinking the same thing since so many of our heroes are dying. And don’t think for one skinny minute that we don’t know that we are closer to our own end lines, just as she is. My head is spinning. Halfway through the 90 minute set, I can feel the deep hum of that tuning fork vibrating in my seat in the mezzanine.
Love lost and found, hits and misses in life, sadness for what hasn’t worked out, Baez has concocted an alchemy of gratitude and acceptance for the vicissitudes of the life she’s lived.
This could easily descend into a morbid valedictory to life’s dissonant chords. That’s not what the troubadour has in mind. This is not a revival. Her songs haven’t disappeared down the drain of popular culture. From socially conscious to just plain beautiful ballads, the songs meant something when she first sang them. They have the power to elevate our spirits today.
She looks fabulous. Close cropped grey-streaked silver hair, tailored black jacket, form fitting jeans, comfortable black flats, she doesn’t look like any grandmother I’ve ever seen.
I’m channeling two concerts, one from the stage, another playing out in my psyche and heart.
A strange stew of triumph and elegy begin roiling around inside my guts and this woman is making them feel like the perfect elixir paving the way for me to consider my own fare-thee-well from this good earth. Honest to goodness this has the rich atmosphere of a wake when warm reminiscences are shared by friends of a lifetime with way more laughter than tears. I actually begin thinking about a playlist for my own wake.
Her voice has always been her gift and still is. In accommodation to age, she’s tuning it down to a lower range but it’s still THAT voice, one that gives me the chills as if I can feel her breath and her body temperature all the way back to my seat in the mezzanine
So here she is, the daring young woman on the flying trapeze, once invincible, now vulnerable.
Which is not to say irrelevant. “Goodbye Rosalita” that she will sing later is still utterly topical and touches on her lifelong themes of social justice, dignity of the marginalized (immigrants today, she will tell you flat out) delivered with the power of a sledgehammer wrapped in velvet.
Fare Thee Well, Joan…but not just yet.