Being the Change, Firefly Dreams, California's Fallen Soldiers, Vista Strawberry Festival, Poe Ballantine
2:30 p.m., May 23
Mutts of the Planet is kind of a misleading name for a band that produces such consistently gorgeous music, and unless you're a Joni Mitchell "insider,' you might not realize that the moniker comes from a lyric on Mitchell's Mingus album.
At any rate, vocal songbird Robin Adler led the group through selected cuts from three early Mitchell recordings in the first set of a sublime show on April 6, at the new Dizzy's, culminating in the second set with the masterpiece "For The Roses," in its entirety.
Robin and the Mutts don't just "cover" Mitchell's music--they inhabit it. Much of the success of these performances is due to the tireless work of her husband, guitarist Dave Blackburn who transcribes, orchestrates and arranges the notoriously difficult music, which involves multiple time-signatures and more than 25 guitar tunings. To pull this off, he has assembled a top-notch group of virtuoso multi-instrumentalists, including on this performance, Barnaby Finch on piano, keyboards and percussion, Peggy Watson on vocals and guitar, Barry Cahill on vocals, saxophones and flute, and Danny Campbell on percussion-- all of them floating on and off stage as the moment required.
Adler began alone, with a chilling turn through Mitchell's assessment of the American war-ethic, "Fiddle & the Drum," before Blackburn arrived to join her with hypnotic open-string voicings on "The Dawntreader." Watson came on board for a transcendent version of "Cactus Tree," with Cahill and Campbell joining on the ebullient "Chelsea Morning" powered by Adler's pure intonation and flawless diction which allowed each and every word to be understood clearly.
"For Free," soared with the melodic woodwind contributions from Cahill and the remarkable interplay between Blackburn's guitar and Finch's lyrical piano, and everyone joined forces on the mysterious paean to a generation, "Woodstock," to close the set.
Adler and Finch began the second set with "Banquet," embodying the exponential leap in complexity that Mitchell's music had attained. Cahill's serpentine soprano saxophone wove around the singer's pitch-perfect acrobatics on "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire," fueled by Campbell's congas and Finch's keyboard bass.
Lush keyboard harmonies from Finch and Blackburn keyed an intoxicating blend with Adler, Cahill and Watson's vocals on "Let The Wind Carry Me," and the whole band remained onstage for a knockout arrangement of "You Turn Me On I'm a Radio."
Closing out with "Judgment of the Moon and Stars," Adler and company basked in a completely earned, tumultuous standing ovation. Adler, Blackburn, Finch and Cahill returned with the guitarist's lush orchestral arrangement of "Both Sides Now," as an encore -- sending chills up my spine.
Photo by Deborah Liv Johnson