Rickie Lee Jones: Bohemian Troubadour

Rickie Lee Jones

The Fillmore

San Francisco, CA

December 19, 2009

Rickie Lee Jones: Bohemian Troubadour

Who raised this banner/ that no one hears?/ The Jack beneath the axis/ Digging under the current/ Someone’s trying to get back/ But who’s qualified to retrieve the soul’s enduring song?/ from the grottoes of her eyes/ and the clashing of the stars

Throughout my college days, I had this quote from Rickie Lee Jones’ “Traces of the Western Slope” hanging on my dorm-room door. I have a long history with Rickie Lee Jones. I first heard Rickie Lee when I visited my alma mater, Lawrence University, as a high school senior. For a Midwestern boy raised on Journey, Styx and Rush, Rickie Lee Jones was a revelation. Her early days as a bohemian troubadour were far from the power chord ballads, new wave and bubblegum disco that typified FM radio in the Midwest during the 1970s and 1980s. She sang songs about down and out characters in bars and motels hustling in order to get by. Listening to her intelligent, poetic, melodic songs opened me to a musical world that I was only vaguely aware of and set me off down a road of lifetime musical exploration. I think most diehard music fans have had this kind of revelatory experience with some artist and for me it was listening to Rickie Lee Jones.

For most people, RLJ is known, mainly, if not entirely for the 1979 mega-hit “Chuck E’s in Love” which seems to provoke a love/hate response. A later hit, “It Must Be Love,” is less well-known but has appeared in more than a handful of movies and TV shows. However, for me, her second album Pirates will always be my favorite. It contains what I consider to be the greatest love song ever written, “We Belong Together,” and one of my all-time favorite songs, “Livin’ It Up.” RLJ went on to experiment less successfully with various musical styles in later albums, including jazz and trip-hop. But she still has a dedicated fanbase that comes out whenever she tours.

RLJ can be a bit of a mercurial performer. The first time I saw her was in Milwaukee in 1984 when she yelled at ushers from the stage for seating people after the show began. She also wore a short blouse and a sport coat over a pair of panty hose and nothing else. When she leaned over she mooned the whole audience. I was in the second row and had a close up view of, well, everything.

Last night at the Fillmore, RLJ's voice sounded better than it has in years. The crowd was very enthusiastic and she was clearly enjoying herself. The highlights included “Weasel and the White Boys,” a re-arranged “Livin’ It Up,” “Easy Money” (a nearly perfect example of story-telling song-craftmanship) and her cover of David Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel.” She also did a fantastic version of “We Belong Together.” RLJ was joined on stage by a small ensemble that included bassist and San Francisco native Rob Wasserman, who has previously performed with Jerry Garcia, Neil Young, Lou Reed, Van Morrison and Elvis Costello to name a few. He is perhaps one of the most talented bass players around and added the perfect touch for almost every song. It was a great evening of music and a reminder of why Rickie Lee has a special place in my heart.

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