Machine-made smoke danced in the beams of light in the Concert Chamber as a packed house waited for the musicians to take the stage.

As an attempt to create a KitKat Klub atmosphere it wasn't entirely successful - the tiny tables didn't help much either - but it set the tone for a polished performance by erstwhile Fur Patrol frontwoman Deans: a baker's dozen of numbers from the back catalogue of the Divine Miss M.

The selection ranged over Mitchell's first eight albums - Amelia from 1976's Hejira was the most recent cut, a Bolero-like version of Cactus Tree from the 1968 debut Song to a Seagull the earliest.

The set as whole was marred by a poor sound mix - Sean Donnelly's bass and Tom Broome's drums (even with a tea towel damper) were unpleasantly dominant, drowning the more melodic runs of Robin Kelly on piano and Paul McLaney on guitar.


As a result, and unsurprisingly, the songs that worked best were those most sparely arranged: an eerie Rainy Night House and a spellbinding piano-only rendition of the title track from Blue were standouts.

But Deans' vocal work was pretty damn impressive: she says she has only recently made Mitchell's acquaintance (a state of affairs difficult for diehard Mitchell fans to fathom). But if the singer isn't in her DNA, she has done a fine job of inhaling her.

The transitions from chest voice to trilling soprano were, with the exception of one high note in Help Me, effortlessly handled, and the phrasing assured and intelligent.

Listening to Deans, one marvelled anew at the brilliance of Mitchell's vocal lines, the complicated rhythms that mix vernacular and poetry. To watch the local woman work through the fiendishly difficult The Last Time I Saw Richard without a misstep was really something, and her handling of the rubato in Little Green was supremely elegant.

There were stumbles: Deans would have done better to hand over guitar duties on Amelia to the onstage specialist and she muffed the verse-order on Both Sides Now.

But this was an impressive opening to the Auckland International Cabaret Season. Good luck getting a ticket for Sunday's encore performance.