An evening in Coolsville

We spent yesterday evening in Coolsville, with the Duchess herself. She sang her way through the soundtrack to my student days in the early 1980s; listening to classic Rickie Lee Jones live was another awesome, red box experience.

The Duchess of Coolsville, 57, skipped on to the Royal Festival Hall’s stage in trademark brown beret and half an hour late for her Pirates concert. According to the Southbank Centre preview, the queen of pop/jazz/country/soul/R&B/blues/you-name-it, with a career spanning 30 years, maintains an unwavering cool despite a historically difficult personal life which has seen her battle and overcome broken hearts and drug addiction. Her concert featured tracks from her two most successful LPs, Rickie Lee Jones and Pirates, in her only stop in the UK before heading to Paris and Bilbao to round off her short European tour.

She opened with Danny’s All Star Joint to thunderous applause, and went on to dance with her beret through After Hours (12 bars past midnight). Spent, she abandoned her beret along with her water bottle, on the piano.

Rickie Lee Jones is not as tall as I would have imagined. I loved watching her bob and weave around the microphone with, what looked to me like awe and fear, and always, always needing the sound to be perfect.

The audience went crazy to hear the opening bars of Chuck E’s in Love, which the Duchess delivered to perfection before moving into a self-conscious, exquisitely delicate and vulnerable, arms-folded version of Company. A beautiful Easy Money prefaced her move to the piano, where she played and sang for the next hour. Living it Up was followed by a call from Rickie to ‘play some more happy songs’, as she moved on to the hauntingly beautiful clarinet-soloed Skeletons.

Ms Jones’ band is filled with outstanding musicians: a crazy talented lead guitarist, a Duke of Coolsville on bass, a keyboard (piano and Hammond organ) magician, an astounding drummer and ridiculously brilliant three-piece horn section of saxophone/clarinet, trumpet and trombone. Each artist had their moment in the spotlight to share their beautiful talent.

After We Belong Together, Rickie Lee apologised for being late.

“Did you forgive me yet for coming on late? I don’t have any reason, except I wasn’t ready. In so many ways,” she said ironically before moving on to Lucky Guy, filled with pretty, pretty Hammond organ solos. On Saturday Afternoons in 1963 was followed by an emotional, tear-filled outpouring of Coolsville.

The Duchess followed her heart rather than the setlist, which kept the band watching her closely and the setlist frequently being replaced.

She moved on to Pirates and Traces of the Western Slopes before a funky Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking. Guitar in hand, Ms Jones talked of her first trip to London in 1979 and how everything about the city ‘creeped her out’ as she walked through the ‘emotional chasm of heroine withdrawal. Everything was different, from having only one television channel (‘that played dogs chasing sheep’), to the light switches, to waking up at 3am and everyone was asleep’.

As an apology for that story, she sang a bonus number, a pure-Rickie Lee version of On the Street Where You Live. The Weasel and the White Boy’s Cool rocked the most insane lead guitar solo before Night Train, Young Blood, Last Chance Texaco and After Hours.

Ms Jones wept as she talked of the ‘supreme peace that found me, unexpectedly, on this Pirates tour’. She thought it would be a nightmare, reliving the difficult times through Pirates, but found that she can now ‘go home and sleep at night’.

With emotion and gratitude, she sang the closing number The Returns, leaving us all with a hope that the Duchess of Coolsville will be back. Two hours of pure Rickie Lee Jones magic. Catharsis rocks.

Sunshine signing off for today!

An audience with Miss Chatelaine

It must be about 20 years ago that I first saw this floppy-fringed Canadian singer. I didn’t really like her look and paid little attention. Until I heard her sing. Miss Chatelaine blew my mind, not to mention my assumptions. Seeing her perform that song live last night felt like a musical dream for me.

Just a smile,  just a smile, hold me captive for a while
I can’t explain why I’ve become Miss Chatelaine
Every time your eyes meet mine,
Clouds of qualm burst into sunshine

kd lang live at the Royal Festival Hall. Yesterday’s date stared out at me from our calendar for a few months, our tickets stared out at me from their shelf in our cabinet, and I grew more and more excited as the day neared. Yesterday was a beautiful warm and sunshiney day in London; temperatures hovered around 26 degrees for most of the day. After work I walked along the edge of the Thames from my London Bridge office towards the South Bank, where I’d arranged to meet my husband at the Nelson Mandela bust. It seemed fitting.

Much of London was out enjoying the sun and the summer construction of a “beach” along the South Bank. Street dancers performed, families strolled along licking ice lollies, pubs overflowed with chirpy office workers, benches and patches of grass were filled with cheery people enjoying the welcome London sunshine. In lengthening shadows and royal blue sunshine, the balmy evening was simply sublime.

Because we booked early for last night’s show, we managed to get great seats in the fifth row from the stage. Little Miss Higgins and Floyd Taylor opened the show with infectiously bouncy old time country music, inspired by her rural home in the Great Northern Plains of Western Canada. After a short interval, kd lang and the Siss Boom Bang Band took the stage and wove musical magic around us for the next hour and a half.

Opening with I Confess from her recently-released and beautifully crafted Sing it Loud album, she moved on to The Water’s Edge before sending the audience into raptures with her crazy-fabulous arrangement of Miss Chatelaine. Mixing old and new songs, she sang and she danced and with every word, she reached out from her soul to an adoring audience.

When she shouted, “London!” we screamed and we whooped and we whistled, before her rousing delivery of Sing it Loud, her album’s title song and anthem to being who you are. She then began a set of spiritual songs starting, as she said, “at the top and working my way down”. She tore through Talking Head’s Heaven before moving on to probably the most sincere and emotional offering of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah I have ever heard. She brought me to tears and all of us spontaneously to our feet. After a poignant A Sleep with No Dreaming, she ended the set by giving her guitar pick to a little girl in the front row. Much applause followed and then kd said, “What? She wants my guitar too? Right. Everyone wants Josephine; she’s that kinda gal.”

She then introduced us to the immensely talented band from lead guitarist, to bass player, drummer, keyboard/piano wizard and then ended with the man who “changed my life”. She met Joe Pisapia at the Ryman Auditorium at the Grand Ole Opry and what we experienced last night is what resulted from “that union”. I’d heard her talk before about the name of the band – Siss Boom Bang is what happens when they play together. They sizzle and they just work. Beautifully.

A clearly well-loved woman, kd batted audience chirps away with grace and gentle wit. One audience member shouted out a whole bunch of song titles. This seemed to confuse ms lang, who said, “So many titles, so few mine.”

What followed was The Perfect Word, Habit of Mind, Reminiscing (what an adorable love song), Sorrow Nevermore (where kd ditched Josephine to play the banjo) and ended with a powerful rendition of Constant Craving. The audience went ballistic and she and the band left the stage. We wouldn’t let her go, so she returned sans shoes and jacket for the beautiful Inglewood, before her final and delightfully frenetic Sugar Buzz.

We still didn’t want her to go. And nor did she. She and the band returned for a third and final encore. She gathered her band closely around her on the stage to perform a song “for all the businessmen here tonight”. A fun and bouncy Pay Dirt  was followed by the achingly delicate Hungry Bird.

kd lang and the Siss Boom Bang Band then left the stage. They left us screaming for more but knowing we’d just experienced an evening of musical genius. I loved it. k daddy – you have the voice of an angel and I’m a fan. A big fan.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Songs from the soul