Joan Baez at the Minnesota Zoo, 7/13/10

Categories: Last Night
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Photos by Steve Cohen
Joan Baez has been performing for over 50 years, and her voice is just as lovely as ever. "I've had to drop my songs down a few notches to match my voice now," she noted apologetically during her show at the Minnesota Zoo last night. But aside from a few key changes her old classic covers rang pure and true, holding the audience rapt throughout her 90-plus-minute set.

She played the first three songs with barely a pause between them, and then loosened up considerably and started chatting with the audience. She joked that she had heard that Mary Chapin Carpenter had a bullfrog croaking throughout her recent performance at the Zoo, and that she would love it if a bullfrog would join her tonight; then said that a fan recently asked her, "Is it true that you do only the new songs?" To which she replied, "Oh lady, I'm not that dumb."

True to her word, Baez concentrated on her older material, including a handful of traditional songs that she said "went around Harvard Square like a bug" back in the '60s and covers by everyone from Bob Dylan (who she ultimately covered four times), John Prine (who she calls "Johnny"), Leonard Cohen, and Woody Guthrie. A band of backing guitarists, pianists, and a drummer shuffled on and off stage, alternating between sparse and more filled-out accompaniments, and for perhaps the first time in this reviewer's history of attending shows, a female guitar tech brought in new acoustic guitars for Baez to play.

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Photos by Steve Cohen
Most of the audience was intimately familiar with her back catalog and covers, and would sigh in awe or start clapping at the beginning of each new song. By the time she reached the middle of her set, her voice was fully warmed up and able to take on more challenging material. "House of the Rising Sun" was a standout, as was Prine's "Hello in There" and her original song "Love Song to a Stranger."

But it was Dylan's "Forever Young" that was the obvious highlight of the night, as her voice quavered with a delicate falsetto on the line "May your heart always be joyful, may your song always be sung." A stoic white-haired man in front of me bowed his head and raised a crumpled tissue to his face, while dozens of couples clutched each other's hands and swayed. The song overtook the audience with such poignant magnitude that everyone raised to their feet for a standing ovation at the end, despite the fact that she still had more songs yet to play. Baez smiled bashfully and said, "Well, we're marking you down as our favorite stop on this tour."

All told, Baez played 20 songs last night -- but judging by how slowly the attendees trudged out of the amphitheater at the end, the audience could have easily spent 20 more songs with the iconic and endearing folk singer.

Personal Bias:
I was raised on this stuff, so the whole night felt very nostalgic for me.
Crowd: Adoring baby boomers.
Overheard in the crowd: HONKKKKK! [Man inexplicably making elephant noise to Joan between songs.]
For more photos: See our complete slideshow by Steve Cohen.

Set List:

God is God
Blessed Are
Farewell, Angelina (Bob Dylan)
Freight Train (Elizabeth Cotton/traditional)
Scarlet Tide (Elvis Costello/T-Bone Burnett)
Handsome Molly (traditional)
Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) (Woody Guthrie)
Flora, Lily of the West (traditional)
House of the Rising Sun (traditional)
Love Song to a Stranger
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bob Dylan)
El Preso Numero Nueve
Suzanne (Leonard Cohen)
Seven Curses (Bela Bartok arrangement/traditional)
Hello in There (John Prine)
John Riley (traditional)
Forever Young (Bob Dylan)
Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts (Bob Dylan)

Encore:
Long Black Veil (Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin)
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Robbie Robertson/The Band)

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