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On Saturday night, Sanders Theatre featured a wonderful juxtaposition of the musical old and new. At 8:05 p.m., the theatre was filled, not with students, but with smiling and relaxed adults who came of age in the late 1970s. There was quite a bit of grey hair, a few leather jackets, and plenty of love and peace.
All were gathered together to take a fresh look at Rickie Lee Jones, a once-prominent singer-songwriter who is making a comeback with the release of her new album, “The Sermon on Exposition Blvd.” Jones first became famous with the release of her self-titled album in 1979, and enjoyed great success in the rock/pop world of the 1980s, eventually winning two Grammies. It was clear on Saturday night that while Jones may have a new album, she does not necessarily have “new” fans.
That said, the theater was brimming with great feelings of familiarity and support, much like a group of old friends coming together to talk about their new lives. Nonetheless, the feeling in the theater was not one of age, but of youth.
At age 52, Jones herself was a display of youthful energy. She entered the stage to a very warm welcome, wearing a long, flowing white tunic and sparkling, tie-up sandals. Her long, blond, slightly disheveled hair gave the impression that she should be singing on a bright summer day and not shut in on a winter night. At first, her music gave a similar impression.
Jones began her concert alone at the piano with some of her older tunes. The beginning of each familiar song evoked spontaneous applause and shouts of encouragement from the eager audience.
Despite her tranquil appearance, Jones’s voice alone was anything but. Her grainy voice was startling to a newcomer, reminding me at times of a blonde-hippie version of Missy Elliott. Her lyrics and performance style were incredibly honest, and even as a first- time listener, I felt drawn into her inner circle after the first few songs.
Jones later moved to the center of the stage and brought out her band. In contrast to Jones herself, the rest of the band members were all male and all young. One guitarist was wearing a black and orange pin-striped suit with a bright teal tie, another was dressed like a 1950s gangster, and the third looked like an Urban Outfitters version of a Buddhist monk.
Standing in the middle of this motley crew, surrounded by an exorbitant amount of various instruments, Jones looked like a little girl lost in a strange, musical land. She, however, was anything but a little girl to her group of boys, even joking at one point, “They’re all so fucking scared of me.” To be perfectly honest, it seemed that they were—although one would perhaps have said, “in awe of” instead of “scared.”
Although each member of this ensemble seemed to come from a different planet, they all shared a clear love and understanding of the sometimes esoteric music. What could have been a fragmented and misplaced group of individuals came together to form a surprisingly resonant, unified sound in the second part of the show.
The rest of the concert was mostly devoted to Jones’ more recent work, featuring songs from her new album like “Nobody Knows My Name,” “Lamp of the Body,” and “Tried to be a Man.” A nice addition to many of these songs was the incredible falsetto of a young backup singer, Theo Little.
Jones’ acerbic new sound was a striking departure from the calm, natural sounds of her earlier work. Her more recent music was fused with strange electronics, and struck an angrier and more disillusioned note. Taken altogether, Jones’s newer sound seemed meant for a more contemporary audience that was unfortunately absent from the show.
Presented to an audience of old fans, Jones’s contemporary music seemed odd, but not ineffective. As a newcomer to all of Jones’ music, I must admit that I preferred the opening portion of the show to the second half. This is not to say that Jones’ new sound lacks any of her old musicality and honesty; instead, it simply reflects a different self and culture. Jones’ new material was definitely an artistic success; yet, sitting in Sanders Theatre among her old audience, it was the feeling of reunion and reflection that struck the right chord for me.
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