Rickie Lee Jones brings a crowd to Paradise
Just as I wondered if Chico people couldn’t be bothered driving up the hill to Paradise for a world-class concert (both Taj Mahal and Leon Redbone, who played at PPAC fairly recently, performed to much-less-than-sold-out houses), along comes Rickie Lee Jones to pack the place.
The Saturday-night show didn’t appear to be completely sold out (there were some empty seats), but the parking lot outside was so full that people were parking up and down Nunneley Road, and I managed to find a spot behind the building where I had never before been forced to look.
I was surprised to see an opener before Jones came on. San Francisco singer-songwriter Garrin Benfield hadn’t been announced in the pre-show publicity, but there he was, and he was far from a disappointment (though some folks around me were complaining a bit about the unexpected opening act).
An Ashton Kutcher look-alike, Benfield possessed musical skills and a soulfulness well beyond his years. His voice was strong, lovely, creative and flexible. His guitar playing, especially when he wasn’t singing and was free to really focus on the instrument, was fabulous.
Benfield, who has toured for four years with Boz Scaggs, had a zillion chops but never overplayed. He was just complicated enough for whatever musical message he tried to get across. He started with an Elliott Smith tune, then went off into his own originals, often using a sampler to live-record infectious layers of loops with which he accompanied himself.
His singing on “Unbound” was particularly beautiful, and I loved his “white-boy funk” (including a little bad-ass funky slide guitar) on a later song into which he cleverly wove the repeated lyrics “All we are saying is, ‘Give peace a chance.'” Benfield is worth a show of his own and a mention of such length in a Rickie Lee Jones review.
Speaking of the legendary, truly one-of-a-kind singer-songwriter, I adore her. She is my favorite singer, and just as I did the last time I saw her, I had tears in my eyes at one point during her Paradise performance.
Jones has the capability, with her extremely expressive voice—at times guttural, at times as delicate as kissing a baby’s cheek—to get right to the core of the human heart and stir up every emotion that’s ever existed, sometimes moving the listener through a range of them—from joy to silliness to exquisite passion to the depths of sadness and loss—in a short space.
Accompanying herself at first on piano, later on guitar along with the fantastic Rob Wasserman (credits include Lou Reed, Van Morrison, Bob Weir) on upright bass, Jones moved through her set of moody gems, which included the old ("The Horses,” “Coolsville,” “Ghostyhead,” “The Last Chance Texaco") and the new, political stuff, such as “Ugly Man” (an irreverent little song about our current president: “Hey, ugly man, what’s the plan?") and “Tell Somebody (Repeal the Patriot Act Now),” off of The Evening of My Best Day.
Jones closed with two standards—"Autumn Leaves" and "Bye Bye Blackbird"—accompanied only by bass, sung in that spare, floaty (yet masterfully controlled) way, complete with hauntingly beautiful scat singing. Pure. Awesome. Inimitable Rickie Lee.