The Rock’s Backpages Rave: Rickie Lee Jones at the Royal Festival Hall
First, a health warning: if you are prone to cringe, foam or rage at reviews that put emotion first and last, and make no attempt whatsoever at objective appraisal, look away now.
Allmans at Knebworth and Todd in Victoria/Joni and Paulie and Townshend at Wembley/Bruce at the NEC, Beach Boys in ol' DC/These are a few of my favourite things./Laura in Islington, Stipey at Dingwalls/Man at the Roundhouse, Squeeze at the Rainbow/Earl's Court hosting the divine Bobby Z/They're a few more of my favourite things...
There ain't 'arf been some lucky bastards, as Ian Dury almost put it, and I'm the first to confess I've been a luckier bastard than most. With the exception of Miles Davis in 1959, the Doors in 1968 and Santana in 1973, I've seen every act I ever wanted to see at the very height of their powers.
Then, last month, I had the privilege to watch Todd Rundgren rummage through his back pages at the Jazz Café in Camden Town, and left utterly convinced I had just experienced the most resplendent, inspiring, pop-that-in-your-bong-and-smoke-it-forever performance I am ever likely to savour this side of paradise. Nostalgia, naturally, was part of the trip, but because the oldies span so many years and styles and the better newies have done nothing to taint the legacy, it was less about wistfulness than celebration. The odds against having one's soul stirred even more vigorously just six weeks later would cheer Mr Ladbrokes no end. But then Rickie Lee Jones, like Todd, never has had much time for tales of the expected.
To the converted, last Saturday's show at the Royal Festival Hall was unmissable: in keeping with current trends, Rickie would perform her first two albums in their entirety, the second, Pirates, for the very first time. Not for a nanosecond was the significance of this lost on disciples.
Rickie Lee Jones was a record of collisions — between jazz and pop, cool and fragile, Broadway and Bowery, red-blooded raunch and blue-mooded introspection. The more subdued, musically expansive Pirates was a valediction to her relationship with Tom Waits — bruised, scarred and worldly-wise yet romantic and wide-eyed and grudge-less; as rich in vocal texture and instrumental ideas as it was in dynamic and tonal and emotional contrast. You could be glib and describe it as a fusion of Joni, Laura and Carole with a dash of Lady Day, but the boys had snuck in too, above all Bruce's horns and horny Johnnys. Hell, she even managed to persuade Dancin' Donny Fagen to tickle the keys. Sadly, recent interviews suggested that, even after more than three decades, the pain that fuelled the beauty still festered.
Happily, if deceptively, the early going found us in the company of brassy, sassy Rickie: 'Danny's All-Star Joint' and 'Youngblood', both from that eponymous debut, and 'Woody And Dutch On The Slow Train To Peking' were beboppingly sharp and fizzingly infectious. Fingers snapped, knees swayed; Rickie jived; even my sombre bum began to twitch.