Rickie Lee Jones at Joe’s Pub: A Tale of $20 (New York, New York, May 23, 2014)
The Blue Valentine girl began her set at Joe’s Pub with “Sympathy For The Devil,” sung alternately as a growling hymn one bar and with a sense of menacing, foreboding the next. She had only an acoustic guitar to stave off any demons that might be lurking about one of the last remaining venues in the city that offers an eclectic mix of music for the mind and body.
At the outset, Rickie Lee Jones announced that she had recently moved to New Orleans from L.A. (“There was no one to go to the movies with”) and had some new songs, but they remained too fragile to perform. Using only that guitar or the piano, Ms. Jones concentrated on her early work. This was not lost on a crowd that knew her music very well. Usually, all it took was the strumming of the opening chords before they knew what was coming. But this was no dipping into the nostalgia for baby boomers; it was a reworking of what could easily be called the new Americana songbook. The Duchess of Coolsville still rules.
Nowhere was that more apparent than as she began walking around the small stage with tables and patrons so close that she likened it to a strip club. Whereupon one “customer” slipped a twenty into her shoe. She gladly took it as she mused out loud that most of the folks in the audience had more money than she did. Later in the set, she waded it up and threw it to someone else. Then later, to even more amusement, said that she should have kept it.
The songs, like brides stripped bare (by her bachelors, even), were written with a youthful zest–most, it seemed came from her first two albums, and no original was newer than 25 years–and now performed in a knowing manner of controlled abandon. Yes, the lyrics and melodies remained the same, but the songs held new nuances, altered meanings, the patina of the living.
Perhaps it has been too long since I listened to it, but one of my many highlights of the evening was “Altar Boy” and its Leonard Cohen-like anthem. It was breathtaking. Another was a story about meeting Lowell George and how his recording of her “Easy Money” came about. The overriding sense of mortality belied the lyrics.
During the encore, she asked if there was anything we wanted to hear. Finally, someone shouted out the obvious and she gave a gesture that begged the question, “What took you so long?” It was performed to perfection.
Sympathy for the Devil
Weasel and the White Boys
The Last Chance Texaco
It Must Be Love
On Saturday Afternoons in 1963
We Belong Together
Living It Up
Chuck E’s in Love
Running from Mercy