Several things were clear at Joan Baez' concert last night at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. She still follows her political conscience with unusual courage and integrity. Her soprano voice is still an overpowering instrument. And she still can't deliver a song with any subtlety or irony.
When she sang Bob Dylan's "Ballad of Happie Carroll," she sabotaged the lyrics by trailing her voice prettily when the song needed suppressed anger. She parodied Dylan's nasal drawl for one verse of his "Love Is Just a Four Letter Word," but never matched his dramatic understatement.
On songs that needed the operatic treatment, though, she delivered. On the Southern black spiritual, "Oh Freedom," her acappella voice soared full-bodied to awesome heights. She dedicated the song to the Vietnamese boat refugees, her latest cause. She relayed the opinion of her hotel cleaning lady: "Po' babies, we busted up their homes and burned them out. The least we can do is take them in."
Appearing with only two microphones, a guitar and a stool, Baez sang children's lullabies, traditional folk songs, songs in Spanish, some comedy numbers and a few originals. She sang them all overpoweringly, which was both her strength and her weakness.