Show Review: Rickie Lee Jones at The Fillmore, 12/19/09

by Jason LeRoy on December 20, 2009

Rickie Lee Jones at the piano a few weeks ago

“Does she still look like Janice from The Muppets?” asked a friend when I mentioned I was seeing Rickie Lee Jones at The Fillmore last night. There’s certainly a resemblance, that’s for sure. It’s been 30 years since her chart-topping debut single, “Chuck E’s In Love,” but Jones, 55, is still very much the picture of laid-back, blonde, heavy-lidded California cool. And if she feels slowed down by age, she certainly didn’t show it during her marathon two-and-a-half-hour set.

You would have thought it was the last show she was ever going to perform. It was possibly the longest set by a single artist I have ever seen, and I have seen Beyoncé. When Jones first ambled onto the stage around 9:15, I don’t think anyone in the sprawling, dedicated audience thought we’d still be standing there at 11:30. But Jones was determined to give us the best, most exhaustive show she could possibly muster, and that she did.

Joined by a modest but accomplished three-man band (and, in a hugely welcome surprise, singer/songwriter Victoria Williams contributing harmony vocals on several songs), Jones got off to a pensive but positive start with “Rodeo Girl.” One of the greatest aspects of a Rickie Lee Jones concert is her utter lack of polish or pretension. This is not a performer who needs the audience to think she has her act together. Rather, her charm comes from her imperfections. She seems not only transparent but vulnerable, very much craving the support of the crowd to find her groove. If something is bothering her, she doesn’t hide it.

Last night, for instance, she somehow hurt her strumming finger at the very beginning of the show. This led to an ongoing nightlong narration of her pain, accompanied by frequent inspections of the wounded finger mid-song. But what else would you expect? Jones’ art has always been about embracing the banal and elevating it to the sublime. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a song called “The Finger” on her next album that somehow takes the idea of a damaged digit and whips it into a soaring chorus that will leave me gasping with sobs.

One of the many other delights of a Rickie Lee Jones show is her storytelling. The first time I saw her was at Largo in LA on Valentines Day. It was a special performance, more of a one-woman show than a concert, in which she created a nonlinear narrative of her life from a patchwork of songs and stories. I thought maybe she was only talking so much because of the special setting. I was mistaken.

In addition to her many stories, Jones is also a dependable source of great non-sequiturs. Some of last night’s random between-song banter included:

  • “Don’t stay at the Fairmont. It’s full of ghosts. Ghosts wearing Santa hats.”
  • “I think I had a sexual dream last night, but I don’t remember.”
  • “I have a pair of above-the-knee boots. I’ve had them for ten years. Before Lady Gaga.”

She also had a few relentlessly depressing moments. When a man in the audience yelled, “Rickie, ‘We Belong Together’!” she glumly responded, “I wish that were true. [long pause] I wish I had someone to belong to.” Wah-waaaah. Then, when introducing “The Blue Ghazel” from her excellent new album, Balm in Gilead, she explained that she wrote it because she didn’t have a song to sing when her mother died two years ago, “…so here is a song for all of you to sing when you bury your parents. Because it will happen one day.” Thanks, Debbie Lee Downer.

But when she wasn’t reminding her fans about the mortality of their parents, she was putting on one hell of a show. She played more songs than anyone could have anticipated, touching on pretty much every conceivable fan favorite while also mixing in plenty of gorgeous new material and unexpected covers (“Low Rider,” anyone?). Her voice isn’t as crystalline as it once was (thank God), but she is still capable of ripping into soaring, passionate high notes that take your breath away and spark your soul.


Rodeo Girl
His Jeweled Floor
Eucalyptus Trail
The Blue Ghazel
Wild Girl
Chuck E’s in Love
A Tree on Allenford
Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking
Love is Gonna Bring Us Back Alive
Easy Money
The Last Chance Texaco
Weasel and the White Boys Cool
Living It Up
Scary Chinese Movie
We Belong Together
Nobody Knows My Name
The Horses
Rebel Rebel
Sailor Song
Low Rider
The Moon is Made of Gold

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Melkonian December 21, 2009 at 11:27 am

thanks for the review, I was there too. But that set list is not correct. she didn’t play “woody n dutch”, “company”, “love is gonna bring us back alive”, or “a tree on allenford”. she did play a song called “it takes you there” and maybe some others. its out of order too. i think “chuckie” and “satelittes” were the second and third songs. she also made up a song on the spot, with a verse about each band member.


Jason December 21, 2009 at 11:36 am

Thanks for your comment, Tom. I know my setlist isn’t perfect, since she played so many songs that I lost track. I had to ask other friends who were there what she played, so I may have gotten some bad information.


Tom Melkonian December 21, 2009 at 11:47 am

Thanks for responding! and I really enjoyed your review and the show…


Liz Scanlan January 22, 2010 at 9:44 pm

hey – i’m a pretty new fan of Rickie Lee. I only can afford to go to one big concert a year and saw that she was playing on my birthday right near my home.
In your opinion, should I make this my concert of the year?
What albums should I listen to if I go? thanks


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