Free Man in Paris
Music/Lyrics: Joni Mitchell
Original Artist: Joni Mitchell
Original Album: Court and Spark (1974)
Historian: Jeremy Welsh
Nestled in a show that began with bustout of “Alumni Blues” > “Letter to Jimmy Page” > “Alumni Blues” and included a second set Michael Jackson medley on the first anniversary of his death, Phish covered Joni Mitchell on a warm, Friday night in Camden, NJ (6/25/10). Sung capably by Mike – having lowered the key of the original – with backing vocals from Page, Phish's cover of "Free Man In Paris" was well-played and rather straightforward, with a slight extension to the end of the song. This was Phish’s second cover of a Joni Mitchell song, having performed “Woodstock” on 7/26/99 at Deer Creek. Mike also appeared on Charlottesville-based singer-songwriter Adrienne Young’s 2007 release Room to Grow that features a cover of “Free Man.”
"Free Man In Paris" was released in 1974 on Joni Mitchell's sixth studio album, Court and Spark, and features José Feliciano on guitar along with Graham Nash and David Crosby on backing vocals. Court and Spark was Joni's most successful album, reaching #1 in Canada and #2 in the states. Joni wrote "Free Man In Paris" about her friend David Geffen after a trip they made to Paris with Robbie Robertson. The song focuses on the anonymity and freedom that Geffen found in Paris, wandering down the Champs-Élysées, feeling "unfettered and alive." Geffen had founded Asylum Records just a few years before, only to be acquired by Warner Brothers, later merged with Elektra. Geffen spent night and day "Stokin' the star maker machinery behind the popular song," and appreciated the escape that Paris provided. One could see how the theme of the song could be appealing to Phish. (David Geffen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, the same year that Trey gave the induction speech for Genesis’ entry into the Hall.)
Joni’s version of "Free Man In Paris" that appears on her live double album, Shadows and Light, has a definite jazz vibe with Jaco Pastorius on bass, Pat Metheny on guitar, and Michael Brecker on saxophone.
An interesting side note: Rolling Stone ranked Joni Mitchell as the 72nd "Greatest Guitarist of All Time” – Trey was 73rd. Rolling Stone also ranked "Free Man In Paris" as the 470th “Greatest Song of All Time.”
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Sick! I had no clue Metheny and Jaco had played together, let alone backing her. Thanks again, Phish!Ridiculous lineup. Plus Michael Brecker, who was amazing, Don Alias, who played on Bitches Brew, and Lyle Mays, who was in Pat Metheny's band.