While Joan Baez’s musical delivery typically revolves around airy acoustic orchestration, her songs carry an undeniable weight – so much so that engaging with the tales she so eloquently presents can leave a listener exhausted. The level of communication that Baez conveys is astonishing. Her songs are intricate stories that wander the social, political, and emotional spectrum. From a plea for guidance from past activists (“Christmas in Washington”) to a heartfelt lullaby composed for her son (“Honest Lullaby”), Baez’s elegance and musical prowess not only pulls you in, it effortlessly captures you until the very end.
In reaching back to “Lily of the West” from Ring Them Bells to open the evening’s proceedings, Baez declared, “We have many years to traverse this evening.” From there, Baez turned her attention to her most recent recorded undertaking, the Steve Earle-produced Day After Tomorrow and the beautifully delivered “Scarlet Tide.” The musical chemistry between Baez and Earle is undeniable, something that her subsequent rendition of Earle’s “God Is God” ably displayed.
In an evening brimming with musical highlights, Baez’s howling rendition of another Earle song, “Christmas in Washington,” ranks amongst one of the night’s finest. While her rendering of Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin’s timeless murder ballad “Long Black Veil” was equally exceptional, nothing in the night surpassed her own “Diamonds and Rust.” As the notes cascaded and frets squeaked, Baez took the audience to the emotional core of the song, written about her complex relationship with Bob Dylan via a moment shared from a Midwest telephone booth.
In a time defined by sound bites and punch lines, the experience of sharing the lyrical substance that has defined Baez’s musical career for some five decades is certainly one to be cherished. And that was a sentiment clearly shared by the at-capacity audience Tuesday night. A standing ovation heralded the closing of Baez’s set, but an equally enthused reception greeted her return to the stage and execution of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Baez has always had a lot to say, and this week the Lobero gave her a fitting platform from which to speak.