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Review - folk: Joan Baez at Vicar St, Dublin


Joan Baez

Joan Baez

Joan Baez

They don't make folk singers or activists like Joan Baez anymore. The Staten Island-born musician has been performing for over 55 years and has released over 30 albums. Her box office appeal seemingly remains undiminished, as the 73-year-old star packs out Vicar St for three nights to see the living legend in action.

Baez is also well known for once stepping out with Bob Dylan and the late Steve Jobs. When she first met Dylan, she was fast garnering a reputation as the Queen of Folk, while he languished in relative obscurity. In 2014, she finds room for nostalgia, folk classics, protest and Latin songs. It is an eclectic and for the most part electrifying set, even though Baez constrains herself to an acoustic guitar.

The esteemed multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell grants this three-night stand an even greater sense of occasion. Powell plays fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar and accordion. He has accompanied the very best of them from Levon Helm to Jack White.

Dylan purists mightn't like to hear this, but Joan Baez sings her ex-boyfriend's songs 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue', 'Don't Think Twice it's Alright' and 'Forever Young' far better than Bob has managed to in recent years. Mind you, a tone deaf busker on Grafton Street duetting with a drunk could do a far better job than his Bobness of late, as his shows frequently descend into a garbled car crash on his irritating 'Never Ending' tour.

Baez performs exemplary versions of 'Long Black Veil' and 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down'. She has been at the vanguard of the protest movement from the Vietnam War to Occupy Wall Street, but she doesn't get up on her soapbox during the second show of her three-night run in Dublin and just lets the music do the talking.

The only low point is a fairly pointless and terribly over-emphasised version of 'Imagine' by John Lennon. When it comes to murdering the ex-Beatle, I never thought Mark Chapman would get a run for his money.

This bum note aside, Baez puts in a brilliant shift. An hour and three quarters whizzes by in a flash, which is pretty good going considering a lot of folk music can collapse into over-earnest drivel and amount to little more than a highly effective cure for insomnia.

After multiple encores, Baez makes a sleeping gesture with her hands to signify that she is tired, but she can rest soundly knowing that she sent them home very happy.

Irish Independent