Most performers today offer a carefully mapped-out concert that meticulously recreates their records plus some pat oldies for the encore. In her Wax Museum show Saturday night, Rickie Lee Jones defied this controlled professionalism by taking grand risks with material and arrangements. She radically reinterpreted her own songs--often extemporaneously--and called out strange but inspired standards for her band to follow. The result was a rare concert that crackled with uncertainty but paid off with Jones' charismatic persona and music almost too rich to swallow.
Jones entered in a black lace dress, a scarlet beret and even more red boa scarf. Playing piano, she led her excellent octet through the defiant love song, "We Belong Together." As it reached a climax far more impressive than the record, she repeated the ringing chorus but substituted strange chords into the progression until the harmonies expanded geometrically. She dispelled the stuffiness of her second album with funny, imaginative arrangements that played soft, wispy passages against rollicking rhythm & blues sections.
Her greatest triumph, though, was an emotionally draining version of Rodgers & Hart's "My Funny Valentine," where she proved once and for all that she's a first-class singer. She wonderfully mimicked the boy-soprano soul vocals on the Jackson Five's "The Love You Save" and the Stylistics' "You Are Everything." She gave Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" and the Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee" an unassailable elegance, but also roared through her own "Danny's All-Star Joint" as if she were Little Richard. Fueled by wing-side swigs of Jack Daniel's, she stayed fresh and inspiring for a 90-minute show and 40 minutes of encores.