“In our concerts, this is Appreciate Bob Dylan Week,” said Joan Baez, Saturday night at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair. “He earned it.”
Dylan, of course, was named the winner of a Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday. And Baez, a former lover and musical collaborator of his — who has also recorded many of his songs, over the years — included five of them in the show, starting with her first number, “Mama, You Been on My Mind” (with the words changed to “Daddy, you been on my mind”).
It was the perfect opening song, and not just because Dylan has been on a lot of people’s minds this week. It had a touch of nostalgia and sentimentality. Yet its central message — I still think about you, but I’m my own person — echoed Baez’s own “Diamonds and Rust,” which she wrote in the ’70s about her earlier relationship with Dylan, and which she performed later in the show.
“I am not pleadin’ or sayin’, ‘I can’t forget you’ … but yet daddy, you been on my mind,” she sang in “Mama, You Been on My Mind.”
Later, she imitated Dylan on “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” and included “Blowin’ in the Wind” as one of her encores. She also performed “With God on Our Side,” which is about war and other atrocities committed in the name of God, and therefore seemed like a pretty timely statement (even though it was written more than 50 years ago).
Baez, 75, still has a stunningly pure and beautiful voice, and throughout the concert, her song selections were inspired — and not only when it came to songs she has been singing for decades. She turned Richard Thompson’s “She Never Could Resist a Winding Road” into a personal statement, singing “I never could resist a winding road,” and sang about defiance in the face of aging in Tom Waits’ “Last Leaf”: “The autumn took the rest but they won’t take me/I’m the last leaf on the tree.”
Always looking for new songs, she sang, for the first time, one by Josh Ritter, “Be of Good Heart Evermore,” that he hasn’t even recorded yet. The absolute highlight for me, though, was the atmospheric and starkly emotional “Another World,” a meditation on death written by Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons.
Baez played some songs solo, but was backed on others by one to three musicians. Her son, Gabriel Harris, played percussion. Dirk Powell played seven instruments (guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, violin, accordion and piano) and soloed on most or all of them (including bass, on “House of the Rising Son”). Vocalist Grace Stumberg sang harmonies and impressed with her soulful, forceful delivery when singing lead on verses of songs such as “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.”
The always thoughtful Baez made sure to let the audience know she doesn’t consider Stumberg a “backup singer,” but a “foreground singer.” She also had her roadie/guitar tech, who didn’t sing or play, take a bow with the rest of the band at the end of the show.
Baez is on her current tour, in part, to help raise awareness of the Innocence Project, which works to free wrongly incarcerated prisoners. She talked about it before performing “Prison Trilogy (Billy Rose),” written in the ’70s with help from her husband at the time, David Harris, who served time for draft evasion. She also tied “Joe Hill” in to the pipeline protests currently going on in North Dakota, and says she included “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” — a soul standard, demanding respect for women — in the show, in part, to counteract the notion that Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” is acceptable.
Baez will perform at the Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees at Town Hall in New York, with Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, The Milk Carton Kids and Nancy and Beth (Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt), Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. Visit thetownhall.com.
Here is the Oct. 15 setlist:
“Mama, You Been on My Mind”
“Be of Good Heart Evermore”
“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”
“Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)”
“Prison Trilogy (Billy Rose)
“She Never Could Resist a Winding Road”
“Me and Bobby McGee”
“No More Auction Block”/”Oh, Freedom”
“Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”
“Diamonds and Rust”
“With God on Our Side”
“House of the Rising Sun”
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”
“Blowin’ in the Wind”
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”