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Rickie Lee Jones - Live at the Wiltern Theatre
Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 58 mins . E . PAL


Ask people what the deal is on Rickie Lee Jones and the uninformed majority (as the majority sadly are) will recall her one big hit from the summer of 1979 and attribute her little else. Itís hard to blame them really. After Chuck-Eís in Love was a hit way back then, most commercial radio networks dropped her off the play list and opted for more marketable fare (the stylish glory of the eighties was fast approaching). Nevertheless, the classic beat lyrics and easy cool of Ms. Jones endured beneath the popular radar for years to come and she remained one of popular musicís best-kept secrets, despite releasing another ten albums in the two decades that followed.

With her laid-back delivery and sunshine disposition, Rickie Lee Jones became about as synonymous with California as a bag full of Beach Boys so, in 1992 when Rickie Lee Jones performed live at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, it was always going to be to a capacity house of more than 2000 faithful. And donít they love her! The almost implausibly polite audience roar their approval at the conclusion and opening chords of each song, remain deathly quiet during the slow numbers and laugh at every little joke (hell, half the time I donít think she was even trying to be funny!). But hey, why not? Rickie Lee Jones is both mesmerising and utterly charming throughout.

In just under an hour, she treats the audience to a chilled set featuring an interesting mix of jazz standards, original material and obscure covers (the tour was largely in support of Pop Pop, her 1991 album of other peoples' songs). Of her original material, the biggest audience reaction is reserved for anything from her 1979 eponymous debut and, even without the inclusion of that song, it is easy to see that her fans never really left her.

In a perfect world, a concert wouldnít feature any highlights because the gig would be so good that there would be no way to differentiate. Believe it or not, Live at the Wiltern Theatre comes damn close, but nevertheless boasts some standout tracks. The blue lament of Coolsville and the crowd pleasing Easy Money from her early years are absolutely faultless while Hendrixís Up From the Skies almost seems as though it was written with Jonesís half-spoken, dropout delivery in mind. Meanwhile, the minimalist Donít Like Goodbye carries enough heart and sincerity to choke even the hardest bastard in the room.

What can I say? With no preconceptions of what to expect from a Rickie Lee Jones gig, this disc made me a happy man (fleetingly, of course). If you are a fan of the lady, you know what to do, if not, this might be the perfect antidote to Video Hits on a Saturday morning (You know we need a cure).

Itís funny, just when you think you know all you need to know about music...

Track listing:
Bye Bye Blackbird
Makiní Whoopee
It Must Be Love
The Last Chance Texaco
Up From the Skies
Dat Dere
I Wonít Grow Up
Donít Like Goodbye
We Belong Together
Easy Money
Moon is Made of Gold
Love is Gonna Bring Us Back Alive


Live at the Wiltern Theatre is presented in its original ratio of 4:3 and is not 16x9 enhanced. The setting and the onstage lighting is minimal, so for the most part Live at the Wiltern Theatre doesnít boast much in the way of visuals. A handful of props (a single fake window frame and a table with a chequered cloth) adorn an otherwise unremarkable set awash with predominately blue stage lighting. While there isnít much to see aside from the performers themselves, the picture quality is ample for this release, if not a little washed out. The dark background (of which there is ample) is poorly defined and not as striking as it could have been had it been black rather than dark grey. Still, whatís a little low-level noise between friends? It wonít detract from your enjoyment of the gig unless you are the type of person that is prepared to let that type of thing get under your skin.

The sound quality on this disc is remarkable given the modest Dolby Digital 2.0 presentation. The instrumentation is crystal, there is very little background interference and the voice of Ms. Jones rings as clear as a bell. The fact that the performance takes place in an intimate theatre before a polite and respectful audience has got to make the sound engineer's job that much easier. Given the light, acoustic nature of the set, a poor soundtrack would have been extremely detrimental, so given the potential for screw-ups, Live at the Wiltern Theatre is somewhat of a triumph.

The disc doesnít offer much in the way of extras, though what it does offer it offers successfully. The static menu system is plain if not functional but comes complete with two viewing options. The first (and I cannot stress enough the value of this feature on any music release) is the random playback feature. In addition to the random playback, you have the option of an information track (title, album, author and year of release) on screen at the beginning of each song, MTV style. Letís face it - information is never a bad thing. The disc also features a single frame shot of three other Umbrella releases, but really, why bother listing it as an extra?

So, there we have it. A quality release from an artist who, despite a loyal following, seems to exist primarily in the memory of those that consider Chuck-E her discography Ė right before we left her behind to explore a new decade. With Live at the Wiltern Theatre, now is the perfect time to go back and pay her another visit.

Just look around. You could do much, much worse...

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  •   And I quote...
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    - Peter O'Connor
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