Joni Mitchell’s Greatest Live Recordings

Following Joni Mitchell’s first headline concert in 20 years, MOJO selects her greatest-ever live tracks.

Joni Mitchell live at Newport Folk Festival 2022

by Victoria Segal |
Published on

To mark this weekend’s landmark Joni Jam at the Gorge Amphitheatre, Joni Mitchell’s first headline concert performance in over 20 years, MOJO reaches back across the carousel of time to select the ten best live recordings that bottle Mitchell’s lightning.

Urge For Going
(Live At The Second Fret, Philadelphia, November 1966)

After the earlier, folkier performances on this collection, this shows Mitchell’s own writing taking “chevron flight” as elegantly as the song’s migrating geese. An introduction about Saskatoon winters – plus a joke about Kalamazoo – underlines her direction of travel. Up and away.

On: Archives Volume I

Little Green
(Live At Canterbury House, Ann Arbor, October 27, 1967)

Mitchell’s barely veiled letter to the daughter she placed for adoption in 1965 was in live circulation four years before its release on Blue. Here, on a recording unearthed in 2018, there’s a raw, husky catch to her tender wishes for “Kelly Green”.

On: Archives Volume I

Chelsea Morning

(Live At Carnegie Hall, February 1, 1969)

Mitchell’s mother Myrtle told her she looked like she was wearing “rags” for this big night; her father Bill more accurately described her as a “queen”. An imperial New York performance, lighting up the concert hall with primary colours and present tenses.

On: Archives Volume II

(The Johnny Cash Show, 1970)

“The instrument is the dulcimer… and the voice is Miss Joni Mitchell,” rumbles Johnny Cash, introducing her third appearance on his show. As well as this radiant version of Blue’s boho travelogue, Mitchell and Cash also duetted on Girl From The North Country.

On: YouTube

Cactus Tree
(Live At Los Angeles Music Center, March 4, 1974)

Buffeted by stronger cross-currents than those moving beneath the version on 1968’s Song To A Seagull, this is one of the intimate acoustic highlights of Miles Of Aisles. Mitchell’s glorious phrasing is a pure manifestation of somebody “busy being free”.

On: _Mil_es Of Aisles


(Live At Universal Amphitheatre, Los Angeles August 14-17, 1974)

Ahead of herself again – Jericho would not enjoy a studio outing ’til Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter in 1977 – this shows Mitchell and jazz-fusion backing band L.A. Express taking down the walls around a song about love’s surrender. A rich exchange, released as a single.

On: Miles Of Aisles

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(Santa Barbara County Bowl, September, 1979)

The Band might have been lightly flummoxed by this song when Mitchell joined them for the wry, spry version at 1976’s The Last Waltz, but this version, featuring Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny, is at full liberated stretch, with a luscious bite to its wildness.

On: Shadows And Light

Free Man In Paris
 (Santa Barbara County Bowl, September, 1979)

Court And Spark’s yearning for “unfettered” freedom is fully unleashed here, Michael Brecker’s saxophone bouncing off any remaining walls until they give way. You don’t need to watch the film to imagine Mitchell’s delight – it’s in every note.

On: Shadows And Light

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The Magdalene Laundries
(Nara, Japan, May 22, 1994)

Described by eyewitness Ry Cooder as “bone-chilling”, this spare festival version of the unflinching track from 1994’s Turbulent Indigo hits every beat of horror and rage. Mitchell is backed by The Chieftains, Paddy Moloney’s tin whistle calling in further ghosts.

On: YouTube

Both Sides, Now

(Live At The Newport Folk Festival, 2022)

The magic of Mitchell’s surprise appearance at the festival she last played in 1969 is encapsulated in this magisterial performance, her rich voice bringing meaning she couldn’t have predicted five decades earlier. Something’s lost, but something’s gained.

On: Joni Mitchell At Newport


Get the latest issue of MOJO in which we celebrate Joni Mitchell's landmark: Court And Spark, recorded 50 years ago and the bridge between the folk majesty of Blue and the ground-breaking jazz-pop to come.

MOJO 356
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