Despite a career spanning three decades and becoming infamous for that Rolling Stone cover picture, Rickie walks on to the Union Chapel stage with an air of vulnerability. She smiles before starting a low key, acoustic rendition of Altar Boy, which is transformed by a discerning violin accompaniment. Then she begins to take the audience through her extensive back catalogue, with renditions of the haunting, A Tree On Allenford and Satellites. Despite Rickie being seated at the drum kit, Satellites, both musically and vocally, lacks the punch that the album version offers and she breaks into giggles at the end, almost as if she is a newbie on the circuit who has suddenly found fame.
Despite what seems like apprehension on her part, she continues to move swiftly through her past hits, hammering out The Last Chance Texaco and The Weasel And The White Boy from her debut album Rickie Lee Jones. It’s here that the audience are reminded why Rickie is something special. Her ability to pitch from speaking to the upper range and back, with seamless shifts has not been lost, but if anything amplified and every song still carries the same heartfelt emotion. Later when she offers the audience Bonfires from her latest album, Balm In Gilead, she confesses ‘I like to write songs, I’m not very prolific but everyone once in a while, I write one that saves my life’ and it seems to make sense of the paradox in her nervous stage presence, compared to her outstanding vocal command.
Though Balm In Gilead is new, the songs are not. Wild Girl she tells us, was started in 1987 before Flying Cowboys but like many others it was left unfinished, shelved until recently. Which explains why the new songs glide into the set without jarring, the gospel driven His Jeweled Floor simply echoing back vibes of the opening Alter Boy. This is not however, to say Rickie is not prepared to mix up the melodies and an impressive use of a loop pedal in Living It Up (featured on her album Pirates), sees her transpose the grand piano driven number, until it filters slowly away from a ballad to a strapping rock number, far weightier than its album equivalent.
The audience reaction to Young Blood and On Saturday Afternoons In 1963 is telling of their reason for coming. Nevertheless Rickie doesn’t allow this to make her complacent, giving a version of The Horses, so powerful that some are moved to tears. This seems to mark a turning point in Rickie’s demeanour, giving her the boost she needs to spit out over 2 hours of classic tracks, both new songs and old, all containing unrivalled passion. In fact, it fuels Rickie so much that she loses track of time and eventually she’s interrupted after Running From Mercy and given a curfew warning.
She giggles and ruminates on how she used to play just an hour set and spend most of it lusting for it to be over before closing with her most cherished Chuck E’s In Love. The audience jump to their feet, clamouring for more but Rickie offers no encore and it’s fair to say she doesn’t need it. Rickie’s ability to transform both song and self throughout the set, and her obvious joy on stage have already marked the bashful blonde as something extraordinary.