A woman known for striking charm and charisma, Rickie Lee Jones didn’t share much with the Door Community Auditorium’s audience on Friday night.
Distracted through the first couple of songs wondering if she was physically sick, as she continually seemed to be coughing or abruptly pulling away from the microphone, it was difficult to appreciate the music itself.
It also made it hard to hear her lyrics. This was a shame, since most of her songs are so carefully crafted; woven with intricate stories and unique imagery. She opened with, “We Belong Together,” a devastatingly beautiful portrait of young lovers, and I was sad not to be able to hear her sing:
Are the signs you hid deep in your heart
All left on neon for them?
Who are foolish
Who are victim
Of the sailors and the ducky boys who would
Move into your eyes and lips and
Though she introduced or explained some of the songs she performed, she neglected to acknowledge where she was – a simple, “Hello, Door County” would’ve sufficed – or who she was playing for.
Jones played through her entire first and second albums, starting with Pirates, 1981, and then Rickie Lee Jones, 1979. She brought her entire band along with her – and musical instruments abounded. She played the piano, guitar, tambourine and spoons at intervals; her keyboardist lent a spectacular solo, electric and bass guitar players rocked the house, and she was joined by trumpet, trombone, saxophone and flute.
Her best moments were when she was standing at the microphone, front and center, swinging and grooving to “Easy Money,” and “Chuck E’s in Love,” as well as the fabulously jazzy, “Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking.”
She started to come round, telling the audience after giving us a little shimmy that she almost started to dance for us, but now-a-days she needed flatter shoes and 10 fewer pounds.
After listening to her live recordings, such as Live at Red Rocks, I’m sure that her performances don’t always lack the audience interaction and energy this one did. She seemed to rely on her reputation for talent, the sheer force and reckoning that was encapsulated in her first two albums, and not in her performance of such groundbreaking songs.
“Coolsville,” still had its high, haunting notes and melancholy chords – like a brief glimpse of what Jones is capable of on stage.
We were ready to share the experience of a musical great coming up to our northern neck of the woods, and happy to be in such an intimate setting watching one of most influential artists of our times perform. That said, Rickie didn’t seem keen on warming up to us, at one point signaling to the audience to stop clapping along to her music.
She neglected to stay for an encore, moving swiftly offstage. This wasn’t a surprise. For a woman also known for her mood swings, known to bring all her emotion onstage and to let it flow through her music, I suppose there are sometimes more profoundly affected performances and others that don’t quite capture us. Rickie Lee Jones left me wanting this time, but I’m still listening to her music. At the end of the day, perhaps her unpredictability is a blessing and a curse.