(Above Photo: Rick Farrell) What’s the best antidote for a snowy March night? The southern Cali born sounds of Rickie Lee Jones – Grammy winner, songwriter extraordinaire, and hipster for the ages.
Jones burst on the scene 40 years ago like nothing popular music had seen in a long time with her hit “Chuck E.’s in Love,” which catapulted her to the top of the charts and won the Grammy award for “Best New Artist” in 1980.
Sunday’s intimate show at the Greenwich Odeum saw her meander through an acoustic based set of songs with an emphasis on her earlier work. Her backing duo of guitarist Cliff Hines and percussionist Mike Dillon was stellar, responding to frequent shifts in tone and tempo, and Jones’ occasional reordering of musical priorities.
She opened with a rich, understated take on “Weasel and the White Boys Cool,” one of her classic jazzy street anthems she sang so well on her debut album Rickie Lee Jones. Many of her early songs reflect LA’s semi-romanticized murky underbelly she endured while sleeping in parks and cars, before her arrival as a major star in 1980. This twisted story of Sal, who dances in welfare lines and “buys his meat from a whore next door,” is a great example of her narrative style.
She moved on to her most well-known song “Chuck E.’s in Love,” getting it out of the way early, she noted. Like most of the songs to come, the arrangement was laid-back, with a campfire on the beach feel.
Those early songs feature characters that rival some of Dylan’s anti-heroes, and songs like “Danny’s All Star Joint,” a finger snapping, bass driven, crowd pleasing rap, reinforce the street theme with lines like “I’m in a half-way house on a one-way street/And I’m a quarter past left alive.”
Her “take no prisoners” approach to songwriting is ubiquitous on those early albums and really comes through on tunes like “Living it Up,” where she tells the story of crazy-eyed Eddie who gets picked up by cunt finger Louie in an alley “from that town where they all look like Frankie Valli.” Scandalous lyrics in 1979, still edgy today. (Jones noted that the hip hop band NWA was arrested for questionable lyrics in the 1980’s, but she was able to get away with it. “Must be the way you sing it,” she noted.)
Jones has a new release entitled Kicks coming out in June which she teased with the biggest surprise of the evening, a sweet version of “Bad Company,” the song by the group of the same name. Other highlights included the jazz ballad “Cry Me a River,” and a mellowed out “Last Chance Texaco,” where her voice wailed as strong as it did 40 years ago when it was released. How does she do that!?!
The show concluded with a pair of songs from her second release Pirates including the Steely Dan influenced title song “Pirates,” and the beautiful ballad “We Belong Together,” again featuring her flawless vocals. Recalling her time with Steely Dan and the recent passing of co-founder Walter Becker, she dedicated her encore “Love is Gonna Bring Us Back Alive,” “to those who are no longer with us.”
Jones’ songs are generally too delicate for an arena or stadium, but work perfectly in an auditorium like the Greenwich Odeum – not too small, but not too big, just intimate enough to connect with her devoted audience. Sunday night’s show was memorable – we hope she returns to the area soon!
All Photos: Rick Farrell, Mojo Photography