Janis Ian filled the Aberdeen Pavilion on Sunday night, where she performed an hour long solo set on the Ravenlaw Stage. Brandishing an acoustic guitar, she stood at the foot of the stage to deliver a selection of songs from her over 50-year career, and in between she spun delightful story snippets of her life in music.
From the moment she strummed and sang the first note of “Jesse,” she had the audience under her spell. Her clear-as-a-bell voice rang with sincerity and passion through the tune’s melancholy tale of loneliness and lost love. From her first recorded song, “Society’s Child” (1965), penned at age 14, Ian established herself as the kind of artist that worked fearlessly to bring to light societal issues and stigmas through her music. Her guitar playing skills were also something to behold, as she plucked out the incredibly beautiful melody of “From Me To You,” followed by “Light A Light,” a song also recorded by an artist she has long admired, Joan Baez.
“People like Joan are the reason people like me dream of being people like her,” she said.
She performed “Married In London,” which she wrote about the restrictions in certain parts of the world on same-sex marriage. Ian and her partner of now 30 years were able to get married in Toronto in 2003.
“For the first time in our lives, we had the weight of a country behind us. It was empowering,” she reflected.
Another in a series of poignant moments came with her personal point of view on aging, and the importance of feeling comfortable in one’s own skin.
“I’m a songwriter – that’s what I am,” she said. “The body is kind of incidental, and still there is this pressure. But there’s a moment you just look at yourself and say, ‘I’m still standing here.’”
She then proceeded with her song entitled, “I’m Still Standing Here,” which contained the lines: “See these bruises? See these scars? Heiroglyphs that tell the tale. You can read them in the dark – through your fingertips like Braille.” Powerful stuff.
The show took a more serious turn into the plight and perils of womanhood, which unfortunately still continues to be an uphill battle. Ian led the audience with some improvised spoken word along with call-and-answer exchanges that sent a wave of empowerment over the crowd. The atmosphere had suddenly turned from a room full of quiet listeners to something out of a 1970’s women’s movement demonstration.
The cheering went on for sometime before she quelled the exhilarated crowd with her signature song, “At Seventeen,” a timeless anthem about the physical and mental growing pains of youth. A hushed audience hung on lyrics that many of us had no doubt carried with us our entire lives. Ian put the final icing on the cake with her favourite classic, “Over The Rainbow,” on which she invited everyone to sing along. It tied up the hour’s emotionally-charged set, and had me leaving the Aberdeen Pavilion a happy little bluebird.