Songs for you

Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

June 3

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From the moment “Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell” opens with cabaret chanteuse Queenie van de Zandt sharing its titular song from a lushly-lit Powerhouse Theatre, it is clear that the night is going to be a very special experience. It’s an appropriate opener for a show that shares the story of a life often spent in heartbreak, that of musical legend Joni Mitchell… a life of childhood hospitalisation with polio, art school abandonment, depression and unwed motherhood.

Given the Canadian singer-songwriter’s status as both an esteemed pop vocalist and composer, Mitchell’s songs are incredibly special, especially in their powerfully personal storytelling, and in Queenie’s hands, their poetry is made all the more apparent, allowing the sold-out audience to appreciate anew their narrative appeal. Inset with voiceovers representing those close to Mitchell, the setlist is perfectly curated to chart the emotions of the star’s extraordinary life. This also allows Queenie to stay in role, but of own voice, as Mitchell, relating experiences with a mix of humour and pathos as she speaks to, rather than at, the audience. Indeed, despite being played in the large Powerhouse Theatre, there is a really intimacy to the show’s revelation of the truths behind some of Mitchell’s most hauntingly-confessional songs.

Musically, numbers range from the light touch of ‘Little Green’ to the catchiness of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and the jaunt of ‘Twisted’. There are emotional moments too during songs about the baby daughter Mitchell gave up for adoption when she was an impoverished Toronto folk singer. In each instance, the live band adds their own appeal to Mitchell’s sometimes unusual musical arrangements.

Queenie van de Zandt is known as an artful storyteller and emotive vocalist and in both of these regards she more than delivers. Her voice is in top, translucent form, befitting a recapture of Mitchell’s delicate, ethereal vocals, in tribute rather than mimic of the icon. And her depiction of the folksy sound of songs like the quintessential counter-culture anthem ‘Woodstock’ is sublime in its affection.

Along with musical director Max Lambert, Queenie has created something beautiful in “Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell”.  Its exploration of Mitchell’s songs, stories and art, makes it is easy for even the uninitiated to appreciate how the peerless provocateur created a soundtrack for the Woodstock generation. Indeed, the show is not just for fans of Mitchell’s songbook and legacy, but also for all lovers of music and storytelling as only a live show can provide. “Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell” serves also as evidence of how songs can continue to live in spirit and melody when of such lyrical and compositional sophistication, meaning that when its opening number makes mention that ‘there is a song for you’, it’s a promise that is entirely true.

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