Saturday, April 29, 2017

Repost - Joni Mitchell at the 2nd Fret

Joni Mitchell's first recorded concerts were at the 2nd Fret in Philadelphia in 1966. The venue catered to acts like James Taylor, Arlo Guthrie (who wrote "Ring Around the Rosie Rag" about an experience that actually took place after a 2nd Fret show in Rittenhouse Square right around the corner), and Dave Van Ronk.  (For a more psychedelic venue, the 2nd Fret's sister club was The Trauma, which featured the likes of Velvet Underground and Zappa.)

There's a fab variety of material here, from songs that today are well known to four which were never before released. The fine solo performance of "Marcie" strikes one with the exceptional craftsmanship of Joni's poetry and the recurring motif of red and green. The tune is filled with the quiet brilliance of lines like "And summer goes,/ Falls to the sidewalk like string and brown paper," with its evocative and original imagery and clever, allusive positioning of the word "Fall." And it is ever so deeply poignant to hear Joni sing "Little Green" so soon after giving her daughter up for adoption (in a way that hearkens back to "Chinese Cafe" on the Wild Things Run Fast LP, a somber, hooky ballad that plays the circle game).

Here too is the first recording of a song that has since become a staple of the Mitchell canon, but remained unreleased until it appeared as the B-side to "You Turn Me On (I'm a Radio)": "Urge For Going," and the only way to hear Joni, at 23 singing standards like "Morning Morgantown," "Songs to a Seagull" and "Cactus Tree." The recording suffers from tape hiss and thin production values, which is more than made up by performance and the ability to bookmark an era as a rock Genesis. There are long spoken intros and charmingly awkward/nervous segues between songs. Joni is polite and engaged, endearing – it's sometimes quite astonishing to hear this for what it is, a set of songs for the stage a full two years before any of them would turn up on a recording.


It was at the 2nd Fret that Joni met another folk singer from Colorado named Michael who was playing at the Trauma. The pair struck up a romance (despite Joni's marriage to Chuck Mitchell), and spent some time together in Philly. The affair fueled Joni's "Michael From Mountains." New love was a powerful creative force for Joni and her songwriting, as would be shown time and time again throughout her career.

The 2nd Fret closed in 1968 and today the building is scheduled for demolition (the equally historic Rittenhouse Coffee Shop has been saved from the wrecking ball).