The band was a hassle. Now there's just the pure, lonely sound of Rickie Lee Jones

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Indy Lifestyle Online
On stage at the Rickie Lee Jones show at the Palladium last Sunday, instruments were outnumbered by household furnishings. There was a piano on a plinth, but also a number of Indian carpets, a small table and a lamp. And there was Jones, who came on with a guitar and perched cross- legged on the edge of the plinth, ready to perform some songs from her back-catalogue, as they appear on her new album, Naked Songs: Live and Acoustic.

Those who saw Jones's joyous London appearances in the summer of 1993, at the Dominion Theatre and a couple of months later at the Royal Festival Hall, might have been mildly disappointed to learn that she was coming back alone. The band she had then was dextrous, spirited and perfectly attuned to her high, vibrato-less, jazz-solo voice. The day before the show, at her hotel in London, Jones, explained why she had to get rid of them.

"They were trouble," she said. "One of the band was in the process of a divorce and really hard to be with, really horrible. And I was still getting over my divorce and I probably wasn't very nice to be with, either." Jones, who says she is "incredibly moody" in the immediate run-up to a show, realises that bands wind her up. "You get there, and they're not rehearsing, or they're playing something different - some stupid thing could set you off. You're paying them per diem, but they want you to pay for their laundry - all this irrelevant stuff. You can start to feel like the employer rather than one of the musicians."

"It was a nice tour," she admitted, "but I felt obliged to blend in with everyone on stage and not be bigger than them. I didn't like the way that felt. And when I envisioned myself, by myself, it looked powerful. And it would make the songs new. It would be interesting for they and I."

The last time Jones stood before an audience alone, it was 1978 and she was hoiking her act round Los Angeles clubs, playing Loudon Wainwright and Paul Simon songs and "anything slow and depressing". Last year at her first solo try-out at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, she was "just as scared as I was in '78". But the audience was mostly invited friends and Lyle Lovett got up on stage for a song to help her out. The next stop was Berkeley, California, and 2,000 people. ("I made some mistakes but they really like me up there, so they don't care.") Gradually, she pared the show down to around an hour and five minutes (though she precedes it with a soundcheck performance which might be anything up to two hours long). "And I got good at it," she says.

The only downside would be that the backstage scene is possibly a little less vibrant. Jones asks humbly for a small order of fruit and Diet Coke. ("They charge a lot for that stuff and I don't want to end up with a $500 bill for some cut-up vegetables and a dip.")

At the Palladium, her voice enjoyed the quiet, working from soft whispers to room-filling calls. Being, at times, one of the loneliest sounds you will ever hear, it suits a solo setting. Her guitar-playing, though, is daringly minimal. Often she is just slapping hard against two or three of the strings. It's possible that our expectations in this regard were forced through the roof by her warm-up act, Willy Porter - a guitarist of astonishing fluidity who won the entire audience over in a way that no support act has a right to. But the sequence of songs at the piano was more assured by far, from a frail "Skeletons" to a pounding and assertive "We Belong Together".

Someone broke the silence to say, "Thanks for coming over." Someone else took this as their cue to shout, "Thanks for taking off your jacket." "There's a little bit of a Grateful Dead thing about my concerts now," Jones says, "where people have come along a lot and now this is how they react. Sometimes they get themselves a little out of hand. I usually stay quiet and let them work it out among themselves. The English can get a little cocky, but it's better that they're rough than that they're uninvolved."

She closed on guitar again, but standing up this time, which seemed to fill out her playing. She gave us an "Easy Money" so cheeky that the lyrics got laughs and a tidy "Chuck E's in Love". Then she thundered through Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" and left grinning. The day before she had said, "Sometimes the applause is thunderous and the room comes close and you see every face." Perhaps this was one of those occasions. In any case, it was good to see her dignified contempt for the debased ritual of the rock show encore. As the audience stamped and cheered, Jones reappeared at the back of the stage, took a deep and gracious bow and left again.

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