Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Concert Memories #1: Rickie Lee Jones, Pier 84 NYC, 8/10/82

Attending live music is a thing of the past...temporarily, of course. And since I have some time on my hands, I thought I'd revisit some of the most memorable shows I've attended since my very first concert in 1974. I welcome all of you to do the same, if you are so inclined.


I had not yet been sold on Rickie Lee. Honestly, I didn't like "Chuck E's In Love" at all, and her performance on Saturday Night Live left me cold. What the hell was she singing...or thinking? But, it may have been more my fault. I was caught up in punk, glam, skinny ties and of course, the hard rock now referred to as "classic" that WNEW-FM had been spinning on a regular basis.

Then, one afternoon while record shopping on Bleecker Street, my friend Joe, then working at Disco-Rama, played the first track off Rickie Lee's new album, "Pirates." The rest is history. "We Belong Together" knocked me out. Joe had been a fan long before her debut was released, claiming to be friends with Sal Bernardi, who sang and I believe co-wrote with Miss Jones. I have a vivid memory of Joe performing visual commentary, as I like to call it, as the rest of "Pirates" played. He'd use his hands to conduct the various points of seemingly impossible vocal tricks from Rickie Lee, the sweeping harmony that comes in the third verse of ""Living It Up," the hipster phrases and percussion in "Woody N Dutch." It was beyond entertaining, and truly helpful. Almost 40 years later, I tend to do all of those moves myself whenever I listen to "Pirates," which remains my favorite record of RLJ's.

That summer, the Dr. Pepper Concert Series on Pier 84, was star-studded. Looking at the schedule, it appears that I attended a dozen shows between June 25th and September 1st, double bills that included Duran Duran/Split Enz, Joe Jackson/Marshall Crenshaw, King Crimson/The Alley Cats,  Cheap Trick/Axe (one of the loudest concerts I had ever witnessed and it was outdoors), Elvis Costello/Talk Talk, as well as Todd Rundgren, Weather Report and Miles Davis. But it was Rickie Lee's show that made a lasting impression and it was thanks to Joe and his assisted listening manoeuvres during "Pirates" that sent me there.

The show ran well over two hours. She had a rack of outfits on stage that she would "shop" through and often change behind from song to song. There were covers, "My Funny Valentine," "I Won't Dance," "Walk Away Renee," "I'll Be There," possibly a few more. The band played extended jams, occasionally swinging like the Count Basie Orchestra, and then getting a bit funky like Earth, Wind & Fire. Rickie Lee told jokes and broke hearts. It was nothing like I had seen prior. The show made me a fan for life.

Years later, when I had my shop, if I played Rickie Lee, someone would inevitably strike up a conversation, sometimes heaping praise, and others claiming "I just don't get her." One person was at the same show in 1982 and he remembered it differently, calling it a shambles, saying Rickie Lee seemed out of it and the band phoned it in. Not how I remember it at all. It still ranks high on my list of all time favorites shows.


mauijim said...

Thanks for this new topic. looking forward to more. I saw her on same tour, in pasadena. Was the late show and she was "tired"
Trouble Man cover was highlight for me. Believe she covered it on one of her cover albums. Forgot all about clothes rack.

Michael Giltz said...

Brings back a flood concert memories for me too -- I bought two tickets to Richard Thompson solo while in college; it was two hours away in small bar and I begged and pleaded but NO ONE would go with me and I went alone and of course it was great. Springsteen in the Orange Bowl at the end of Born in The USA tour, sixth row center. Sinatra around the Iraq War in terrible voice (mostly) w Steve & Eydie opening but he had one great moment and that was enough.... Thanks!

MLux said...

I was so fortunate to have seen Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris and The Fallen Angels Band at Max's Kansas City in March 1973.
As I recall, it was a rainy night with about 30 people in the club. Their performance was stellar. And the rest is history.....

Another amazing concert memory was seeing Sly and the Family Stone at MSG in September 1971. They were still flying high from their Woodstock performance and subsequently blew the roof off the Garden. As I recall, Sly and the Band even arrived on time for their performance.

Chris Collins said...

great, great story.

Back in high school I saw that Johnny Cash was gonna be at the Westbury Music fair. Its before he was cool again and none of my terrible friends were interested. So I went by myself, which seemed terrifying and totally uncool at the time. But i got there just in time to see June exit the tour bus and she called me "Sugar" and told me she hoped I liked the show.

I did. Of course. The only time I saw him and it's etched in my mind.

Joelhb53 said...

Gee ... so many concerts over the years. Sometimes I count the bands I haven't seen rather than those I have.

The greatest live musical show I ever saw was a performance of "Fire in My Mouth" featuring the NY Philharmonic and two choirs. This was a Julia Wolfe composition based on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1912. Jaw dropping. Check out the album on Spotify.

Best pop concert might have been the last King Crimson tour (show at the Cap in Port Chester) or the expanded Talking Heads in 1981 in Atlanta.

A walk in the woods said...

Great write-up. I have so many great concert memories - I've seen about 600 shows since my first one in 1984 - we could all probably riff on this topic and it's always fun.

Rickie Lee is a touchstone for me. Partly because her look around that first LP is still my ideal of what a pretty woman looks like... urbane, bohemian, long brown hair, the whole deal.

But mostly of course it's because of her songs, her music, even her covers. I was going to see her Atlanta show this Spring, but it's one of five I have tickets for that have been postponed or cancelled (and suitably so!) or almost surely will be soon: Steve Gunn, Lindsey Buckingham, James Taylor/Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan and her.

Have you heard "Flying Cowboys"? That's a favorite from her... and she has gems sprinkled all along her lengthy catalog.

kevin m said...

In June of 1985, I was a few weeks out of college and starting a job at Billboard Magazine as the Radio Charts Manager (basically calling up radio stations for their weekly playlist). I barely located the Mens Room on the floor before being offered tickets to Live Aid the next month which included access to a backstage area with food and beverage.

It was one of the first shows that had a circular stage where one act was rehearsing or warming up while another act was performing. I still recall watching Led Zep rehearse while I believe Madonna (could be wrong) was on stage. I remember running through a tunnel from the backstage area to my seat (near where the MTV VJs were broadcasting from) to catch them. While the band may have been disappointed by their performance, no one around me thought so!

Anonymous said...

I've seen some stuff - Nick Cave lunging into an audience of 250 and them all falling back, the Butthole Surfers with the tuba player that had Flock of Seagulls hair, D Boon dancing his ass off in the middle of a solo - but the most swoon worthy was Nanci Griffith around the time she got her MCA deal. She had a hot band, the stories between the songs were longer than the songs but nobody cared because of that Texas accent, and every guy near the stage swore afterwards that she looked right at them.

the ones I remember fondest are the ones where name bands played their hearts out for nearly an empty hall - Humble Pie (Smokin tour), Climax Blues Band/Fleetwood Mac (right before the s/t album came out), White Zombie (pre-Beavis & Butthead).

Sal Nunziato said...

Great story, Kevin.

Anonymous said...

This is tough. There's nothing like a large venue show when the crowd is rocking (Split Enz '76, Richard Thompson mid-80s, Bowie '75 & '81-ish) but there are too many. Lots of mid-size shows ... Townes Van Zandt, Loudon Wainwright, Muddy Waters, Steeleye Span, Joan Armatrading. But I'm going for the club shows ... tiny venue, small crowd, and performers giving their all anyway.
* Lucinda Williams: Sweet Old World just released, played for me and and maybe another 30 others at Washington Park in Albany. Fantastic songs, great band, so good I was in tears.
* Ralph McTell: English folk legend at a tiny upstate NY bar (Why there? Long story) tiny crowd also. But an incredible, generous and good humored show. Felt privileged to be there.
* Stormin' Norman & Suzie (SUZIE!): Lenox, Ma. Huge fun. Plus SUZIE!
* Memphis Slim: The 100 Club, London. Dignified, immaculate, but a little stilted. Then an old friend who was in town performing in a West End show joined him on stage, and things took off. She was a raunchy blues singer who broke thru MS's reserved demeanor and things went from a relaxing recital to a sweaty, bluesy PARTY.
* Jeff Buckley & band: Upstairs at Valentine's, Albany. Before Grace was out, but the buzz had begun. Still there were no more than 20 of us, seated on the floor. Excellent show; JB's charisma was off the charts, his voice amazing, potential seemed limitless.
* Chuck Prophet: Downstairs at Valentine's. Maybe 12 people there, and half of them were just bar drinkers. The Hurting Business was just out and his career would gather momentum from here on. This was a stunning show. Drums, bass, Stephanie on keys and Chuck on guitar. I went in Chuck-curious and left a lifelong fan. Seen him several times since, with a bigger (better?) band, but while it's great to see him healthy, happy and successful, none of the shows had the edge, the rock n roll menace of this one.

Anonymous said...

Rickie Lee is the hot roll that melts my butter. Pirates has always been my favorite as well and may be in my all-time top ten. I've always been most partial to Traces Of The Western Slope, but the whole album is stellar. I recently scored a vinyl copy of The Evening Of My Best Day, an album I've never spent much time with. After one listening, it seems like it's right in my Rickie Lee wheelhouse. Your thoughts on that one, Sal?


Sal Nunziato said...

I haven't listened to "Evening" in some time. I don't remember what I thought. It's time to revisit.

Robin said...

Thanks for sharing this memory of one the artists so special to me. I've never seen in her in concert but always wanted to but feel transported by your post!

Ninabeeeyotch said...

What a terrific memory, molded into a wonderful story. I haven’t loved everything she’s done but I love her and have loved MUCH of her recordings. I was lucky enough to see her in Chicago with Tom Waits in 78 or 79 and it was magic.
Thanks for sharing-and PS I purchased many of her discs at NYCD on your recommendation. Keep em coming baby