Fans of Rickie Lee Jones appreciate the quirkiness - even the unevenness - of her live performances, and much of her appeal sparks from her seemingly real personality. This is why this review is so challenging to write: Rickie's rawness is part of her charm, and as fans we are usually willing to weather her storms, but Friday night's performance at the Pabst Theater took us out too far. The waters were simply too dark.
Maybe it's because her mother died last August, or the fact she admitted on stage to harboring "old person" thoughts about how quickly life slips by, but the "Dutchess of Coolsville" was lackluster, less friendly and dressed in frumpy jeans and a shapeless shirt.
Aging and grief might also explain her latest record, "The Sermon on Exposition Blvd.," which explores the messages of Jesus. Of course, Rickie does this in a cool and unconventional style, never once trying to proselytize, and tosses religious imagery on its head by referencing the devil as "soft and sweet" in the song "Circle in the Sand."
Rickie was definitely at her best when she sat alone at her black piano. When she played with her six-piece band, Rickie seemed disconnected and at times bossy. Surprisingly she took an audience request for "Elvis Cadillac," but proceeded to coach the musicians - clearly struggling to perform a song that wasn't on the set list -- with frustrated hand gestures.
Guitar player "Junior" was entertaining, but perplexing. His style and movements made him appear like a one-man '80s video, with a long, skinny figure and a long, skinny tie. His offbeat dancing and clapping suggested he was a totally tubular jester rather than a member of the band.
In short, the show, for the most part, felt "off."
Don't get me wrong, at times Rickie was lovely -- slow versions of "Flying Cowboys" and "Must be Love" were lullaby-esque -- but her lack of an encore and mumblings about all cities being the same metaphorically sent black valentines to the audience, dozen of whom had dropped bouquets of flowers on the edge of the stage prior to the show.
All in all, the Rickie we saw last night was nothing like the woman who performed for us just over 18 months ago in the same venue. Although during that show she took the stage slurring her words, she eventually delivered a powerhouse performance reminding us that Rickie Lee Jones, although in her early 50s, can still roll with the rockers.
Hopefully next time we'll catch a glimpse of THAT girl.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.