2009 marks the 30th anniversary of Rickie Lee Jones’ transatlantic hit, Chuck E’s In Love, which remains her greatest commercial success.
This is one of two details that are always cited when it comes to Jones, the other being her relationship (also in the late ’70s) with Tom Waits. The singer (whose voice was sampled for The Orb‘s Little Fluffy Clouds) has remained active throughout the interim, however, and tonight’s gig sees her showcase latest album, Balm In Gilead.
Prolonged applause greets the Chicago-born singer’s entrance as she settles down with an electric acoustic guitar, flanked by a bass player and double bass player. The sound is stripped back and subtle for new track His Jewelled Floor, which builds subtly then passes like gentle sonic waves lapping against the shore. One thing that’s clear from the start is Jones’ genuine enjoyment, and she looks ecstatic as she sings the melodic A Face In The Crowd.
Her passion is mirrored by certain members of the crowd, one of whom hands her a birthday present following Nobody Knows My Name. The adulation continues as Jones resumes playing, but the clapping and whooping are thankfully brought to an abrupt end by another audience member telling them to shut up, testament to the hushed and respectful atmosphere in Cadogan Hall that she has managed to create.
Following a phase of harmonica-laced blues and soul, Rickie Lee talks to the audience about her performance on this week’s Later… With Jools Holland. “Fucking TV!” she laughs. “It’s hard to sell an idea in three minutes.” This is then juxtaposed with the contemplative Bonfires and the moving and heartfelt melodies of Sailor Song.
And that’s what stands out about Jones. She comes across as strong one moment, vulnerable the next. She sings about the US human rights struggle in the ’60s on The Gospel Of Carlos, Norman And Smith immediately before singing Stewart’s Coat, with its imagery of autumnal days and keeping cosy under the sheets. Certain factors remain constant though; emotion pours out of every note, whether it’s love-inspired balladry or the more upbeat rock of It Takes You There. Her talent lies in the way she taps into emotions and creates a story around them. From gentle rock to country to blues to folk, each song is carried off with equal emotion and sensitivity.
Jones steps over to the piano, showing off her vocal range on Magazine before playing crowd favourite We Belong Together. She then bookends her career by playing the jazzy Coolsville from 1979 before picking up the guitar for Wild Girl, a song dedicated to her daughter from the new album, to close. The encore comes courtesy of a beautiful rendition of jazz standard Autumn Leaves.
Chuck E’s In Love may have been overlooked but none of the diehard fans that heavily pepper the venue seem to care about that as many of them rise for a standing ovation. Rickie Lee Jones has a wealth of material from which to draw from the past three decades and tonight’s performance proves that an artist’s biggest, most commercially successful moment is not necessarily their defining one. This was an accomplished performance by an artist who still clearly retains the passion and joy of playing music live.