Pirates: Rickie Lee Jones, Manchester International Festival: Bridgewater Hall
A dreamy account of a bleak past
There has always been something defiant about Rickie Lee Jones. When her debut album, with its jazz-toned hit single "Chuck E's in Love", won a Grammy in 1979 she rejected suggestions that she emphasise the more commercial aspects of her songwriting. Indeed, her second album, Pirates – which chronicled the break-up of her relationship with Tom Waits – proved a howl of anguish. Crossing the chasm of cocaine-fuelled psychosis that divided then from now, she's back, defying the years.
A retrospective might seem to go against the grain for the Manchester International Festival, which usually specialises in new work. But this live performance of Pirates, which has been listed as one of the 25 Most Underrated Albums of All Time by The Word magazine, was more than an exercise in nostalgia for a cultural moment now long passed.
She performed the songs, along with those from her eponymous first album, in the order she wrote them, beginning somewhat diffidently with "Easy Money" and "Weasel and the White Boys". But with growing confidence she recreated the Runyon-esque carnival that was her 1970s finger-snapping bepop, jazz and R&B flavoured "Coolsville". She was allusive, impressionistic, cinematic and – as she navigated the darker side of it all – bleak. These are songs Edward Hopper might have written. Her cast of characters are "all dead now or in prison", but for one golden evening they were back with her, in their prime.
Her voice was light in the years when the cigarillos, drink and drugs were a bohemian indulgence and had not yet taken their toll. Thirty years on, it retains that brittle fragility, diamond-hard and yet desperately vulnerable. But if her elfin quality has not been entirely lost with the thickening of her waist, she has acquired a vocal depth and knowingness. She still sings like she is dreamily half-cut but that belies a control as complete as that of her impressive band of economic synth, precise bass, faultless guitar, cool trumpet and plangent tenor sax.
This is not growing old disgracefully. It is a voice from a dream, elusive yet familiar, transcendent, a messenger from another place. All that junkie whining about the departure of Waits has become a lament for human mortality and the passing of the years. Stunning. And she did it all without breaking her cool.
Arts & Ents blogs
Thirteen-year-old Conor awakes in bed one night to discover that the yew tree outside his house has ...
It’s hard not to feel sorry for doe-eyed Andy. He spends months pining after Louise, has huge nostr...
Fragility of life looms large over an episode that closes with the scarring on Julie's stomach. Whil...
‘Hello, NME? I’d like to complain about your Tom Odell review. Why? I’m his dad’
Kan you believe it? Kim Kardashian and Kanye West reportedly name baby daughter 'Kaidance Donda'
American studio claims it designed London 2012's Olympic cauldron
Arrivederci Tony! Tributes pour in for Sopranos star James Gandolfini after heart attack death aged 51
Anger Management? Charlie Sheen fires Selma Blair as his onscreen therapist with expletive-filled text
- 1 Breaking the Silence: In the reality of occupation, there are no Palestinian civilians – only potential terrorists
- 2 Newcastle owner Mike Ashley wants blood after last season's trauma - and it won't stop with managing director Derek Llambias
- 3 Richard Nieuwenhuizen death: Six teenagers and 50-year-old father convicted of manslaughter in shocking case of referee killed over a game of football
- 4 Exclusive: Newcastle United's star talent-spotter Graham Carr on brink as Joe Kinnear sparks walkout at St James' Park
- 5 Vast methane 'plumes' seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats