Sat 27 Mar, 2010
Tags: 4 STARS, CHICAGO STAGE REVIEW Exclusive Images, Concert Review, Joey Maramba, Lincoln Hall 3/25/2010, Lionel Cole, Live Music, Rickie Lee Jones
Review & Photo Essay By Venus Zarris
The biggest reaction that I received over the past week when mentioning that I was going to see Rickie Lee Jones in concert at Lincoln Hall was, “I love her!” The second biggest reaction was, “Really? I didn’t hear anything about it!”
In 1979, shortly after the release of her debut album, Rickie Lee Jones appeared on Saturday Night Live. Within a few months she was selling out shows at Carnegie Hall. Grant it that was over thirty years ago, but Jones has remained a consummate artist and one of the most singular live performers to emerge from American popular music.
After three decades a musician might get stale, lazy or comfortable. Jones is none of those things, always reinventing herself by infusing fresh approaches to songwriting while maintaining her uniquely distinctive artistic voice.
I’m not really sure why this tour date of the beloved Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter/musician was so underpublicized. Although she has a large fan base in Chicago, the lovely venue of Lincoln Hall was not full but the devoted pilgrims who tracked this buried treasure of a hidden concert down were well rewarded for their diligence and overwhelmed by Jones’ genuine presence and incomparable performance.
This was not an evening of getting through the play list. Rather, the evening itself was an improvisation. Starting on the drums and then moving back and forth from guitars, keyboards and back to drums, Jones delivered the casual spontaneity of a seasoned jazz artist. From new compositions to classic standards to unique covers, each song was an idea, rather than an obligation. Each song came with the thrill of being created in the moment, rather than the redundancy of a preconceived calculation. The evening was far more invention than it was presentation.
The evening was also intimate. The audience came to see an old friend, someone who had been with them through good times and bad times and perhaps even more significantly through the minutiae. Countless cumulative hours of listening to Jones’ music were evident. For many, Jones had penned the soundtrack to much of their lives. It is hard to imagine what it must be like to step in front of so many people who have created profound relationships with your music and in so doing feel as if they know you exclusively and likewise, for the emotional investment that they have in your work feel that you should somehow know them.
Some artists handle this with the detachment of a contrived persona or a manufactured performance. Jones handles it with breathtaking grace and impressive patience. At the end of a soul stirring incarnation of her standard We Belong Together she paused. The audience was overwhelmed and one fan sweetly yelled, “I love you Rickie!”
Jones smiled without lifting her head. Another audience member yelled, “Me too!” This opened a single-file floodgate of declarations of affection. “I’ve loved you for twenty years!” “I’ve loved you for thirty years!” “I’ve loved you since college!”
Jones finally looked up at the strangers with a big smile and a slight inkling of bewilderment. I said to her, “Listen, it is obvious that for most of these people, you’re probably their longest lasting relationship.” She laughed and softly said, “Yeah, me too.”
Anecdotes and adoration aside, there was the music. Aided only by the brilliant bassist Joey Maramba and the inspired percussion, piano and guitar work of Lionel Cole, Jones swept the audience away with atmospheric musical magic. Of all of the extraordinary tools that Jones has at her personal disposal, it is not as much the haunting songwriting or the intricate musicianship that she employs to tell her emotionally compelling musical stories, but rather it is that one-of-a-kind voice.
She can effortlessly move from child to vixen, from boogie to torch, from fool to sage and from joy to defeat with a simple change of inflection or a dramatic change in tone. Her career spans over three decades but the quality and strength of her voice is as powerfully evocative, as beguilingly melancholy and liltingly lovely as ever.
No future concert dates are currently listed on Rickie Lee Jones’ official website, making this either the end of the tour or the end of this leg of it. There was a suggestion of fatigue. February was spent touring the U.S. and March was filled with European concert dates. She told a story of her guitar being stolen in Brussels and another of loosing her passport in France. But Chicago was far from robbed by closing the tour. What we got was the soup, simmered and seasoned to sublime perfection.
I saw her over twenty years ago at the very beginning of her Flying Cowboys tour. Over the years I have seen her midway through a stretch on the road. I can now bare witness that her talent is consistent from start to finish. Any opportunity to see Rickie Lee Jones perform live is an invitation to a rare and wonderful event, an unforgettable affair.
She is a much-deserved American music legend. She is even more an honestly authentic artist of the world. For years she has given herself to the world through her unparalleled musical creation and hypnotically unwavering performance but for a few hours on March 25, 2010, at Lincoln Hall in Chicago, she gave herself just to us.
For information on Rickie Lee Jones’ latest album Balm In Gilead, previous recordings, images, videos, future tours and all things Rickie visit her official website here:
Rickie Lee Jones concert images by Venus Zarris.