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Shout Factory presents
Joni Mitchell: Refuge of the Roads (1984)

"If you're some kind of a friend to me, then you get a backstage pass and you get in for free. But the one-man band by the quick-lunch stand, he was playing real good for free."
- Joni Mitchell, in "For Free"

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: August 15, 2004

Stars: Joni Mitchell
Other Stars: Larry Klein, Mike Landau, Vinnie Colaiuta, Russell Ferrante
Director: Joni Mitchell

Manufacturer: 3rd Sector Entertainment
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language in songs)
Run Time: 00h:59m:31s
Release Date: August 24, 2004
UPC: 826663035292
Genre: rock

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Joni Mitchell has adapted over the years into nearly as many different personae as David Bowie. This self-filmed performance video catches her in 1983, just coming off a lengthy tour, post-Mingus, as she was in a more hard-rocking tone as a complete contrast to her earlier folk material.

The performances are live but in studio (though audience noise sometimes is layered in), with occasional bits of stock or footage acting as counterpoint to the music. Storm and horse imagery is a bit on the hackneyed side, but things are also spiced up by head-scratching footage from Viridiana, and more plausibly, from Koyanisqaatsi and Woodstock. There's a bit of (silent) performance footage of Charles Mingus over God Must Be a Boogie Man. Random snippets of tour performance and offstage footage also make their way into the blend, keeping the visuals interesting and varied.

While today it's sometimes painful to hear her perform, Mitchell is still in pretty good voice here, not yet having succeeded in demolishing her once-beautiful voice through too many packs a day (a case of tragic self-destructiveness if there ever was one). She performs with intensity and vigor, and her backup band, including her then-new husband bassist Larry Klein keeps up with her just fine.

The song selection includes a couple of classics sprinkled in among other material that wasn't familiar to me but nonetheless interesting and worth a listen. The concluding version of Woodstock is marvelous, with Mitchell on solo electric guitar, transforming it once and for all into an achingly mournful valediction to the long-gone Peace Generation. The program consists of:

Wild Things Run Fast
Raised on Robberty
Refuge of the Roads
Sweet Bird of Youth
You're So Square (Baby I Don't Care)
Solid Love
God Must Be a Boogie Man
For Free (He Played)
You Dream Flat Tires
Chinese Cafe
Underneath the Streetlight

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The principal performance footage appears to be shot on video and is accordingly quite soft and lacking in fine details, with some video artifacts visible on occasion. Black levels, however are very good, as is the reproduction of the pseudo-stage lighting. The inserted footage is of variable quality ranging from fair to poor.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Both a PCM stereo track and a 5.1 remix are included. Each has its advantages, with the 5.1 giving a more spacious soundstage. But the audio seems a shade more natural on the PCM track, most notably in the bass solos, which sound less harsh in the PCM version. Both are very clean tracks with excellent bass and presence, and preference of one will largely be a matter of taste.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 13 cues and remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
Extras Review: The sole extra is a photo gallery from the 1983 tour, which can either be clicked through manually or played as an automated slideshow over the title song. But that's it. Not even any subtitles or closed captioning are provided.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

A vigorous performance from Mitchell makes this one a must for her many fans. The source material limits the quality of the picture, but the sound's excellent.


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