There are a handful of rock stars who are commonly identified by their first name – Elvis, Janis, Bob and of course, Joni.

Arc Iris Plays Joni Mitchell’s Blue This Weekend
Arc Iris Plays Joni Mitchell’s Blue This Weekend

Joni Mitchell is one of the most influential artists in modern music – her impact as a singer-songwriter is undeniable. Her 3rd album Blue, is a recognized classic, a confessional lyric driven masterpiece that maintains its relevance almost 47 years since first released. The 1971 release showed Mitchell raw and vulnerable, leading fellow songwriter Kris Kristofferson to remark “God, Joan, save something of yourself.”

Enter Arc Iris, a Providence based band that creates hard-to-categorize jazzed-out psychedelic dream pop. Singer and guitarist Jocie Adams, who was previously a part of the Providence indie collective Low Anthem, formed the band in 2012. Arc Iris is a trio, with Zach Tenorio Miller on keyboards and Ray Belli on drums. Since forming, they’ve released two critically acclaimed albums and toured the US and Europe non-stop.

This weekend, the band returns home for a couple of special shows honoring the classic Mitchell album. In an interview with WhatsUpRI, Tenorio-Miller explained the concept.

“The show is a complete re-imagination of Joni Mitchell’s seminal album Blue. Whereas acoustic guitars and minimal arrangements are some of the hallmarks on Mitchell’s original recording, Arc Iris’ interpretation of the music is bold and modern. The band mixes the sounds of symphonic analogue synths, heavy drum beats, and sampling, while the iconic songs themselves are never swallowed up by the tide of these inventive arrangements.”

With Mitchell’s deep catalog, he discussed the reasons why band chose Blue.

“For one, Joni Mitchell’s songwriting has always been an inspiration to each member of the band, particularly lead singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Jocie Adams. Molding Mitchell’s music to the sound of Arc Iris has provided the band with an opportunity to express its own identity through a body of work beloved by countless fans. Second, Mitchell’s role as a groundbreaking female figure in a male-dominated industry is worth celebrating in its own right.”

Of course, it’s well known that Mitchell varied her sound and message over the course of her career. In ten years, she went from confessional singer-songwriter to jazz musician, although like many, she despised labels.

Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album “Blue”
Image courtesy of Reprise Records

Tenorio-Miller notes, “A good song can be played in many ways!  Joni Mitchell’s music is especially suited towards Arc Iris because it is built with creative chord and song structures that can be used as a thoughtful musical basis for manipulation.  Her writing on this record speaks very loudly to the place that many of us in this nation are in right now.  Most everywhere I go, I see a similar melancholy which is so vital while also so confused by the recognition of relative privilege. These feelings, whether I am projecting onto Joni or not, resonate with me especially strongly at the moment.”

Tenorio-Miller is looking forward to two homecoming shows this weekend, Friday July 21 at Pop in Providence and Saturday July 22 at Pump House Music Works in Wakefield. They’ve been on the road for the past few weeks.

“We have been very pleased to have very appreciative crowds. They generally don’t know what to expect, because we are always changing and moving forward – while that could be frustrating as an audience member, we have found that people are very pleased to be able to both distill the music to the continuous pulsing spirit of the makers and also feel and briefly live within the ever-moving glacier that makes up the arrangements and the music.” Remarked Miller. “I find it very rewarding to be able to feel like I can give something so kind to people in a world where everyone works so hard to get by,” he added.

This is no “throw it together” tribute show – it’s a fully re-imagined take on a classic album.  The show is serious business – it’s even announced on the official Joni Mitchell web page. Indeed, the songs certainly take on new meaning, as evidenced on band and fan posted YouTube videos.

Opening the show Friday at Pop will be Geraldine, a four-piece rock band from Providence. Opening on Saturday is Matt Fraza, who has his own album cover show planned as he takes on Van Morrison’s classic, Astral Weeks.

For a preview, check out the video from the band below. For more details about the Friday show at Pop, click here. Check out the details on the Pump House Music Works in Wakefield here.