Lest anyone doubt it, these are the good old days as far as Jewel is concerned. The best-selling pop artist and poet said as much at Merriweather Post Pavilion last night when she recalled her early performances at a Washington bookstore and cafe. She remembered being tucked away in the reference section of the shop, "singing my heart out" while a steady parade of browsers walked by, totally oblivious to her presence.
Jewel still sings her heart out, only now to huge and adoring crowds, but as her audience has grown so has her interest in moving beyond simple folk-song structures and acoustic settings. Indeed, last night, while performing with her quintet on the last leg of an international tour, Jewel seemed intent on her obliterating her reputation as a single-faceted performer--compassionate but soulless.
While there was no shortage of earnest ballads, unabashed love songs and heart-aching laments, including a lovely Joni Mitchell-like reading of "You Were Meant for Me" and a piano-only rendering of "Foolish Games," at plenty of other moments Jewel seemed eager to take on a persona at odds with her public image. When she wasn't coyly accentuating the more sensual and playful aspects of her songbook with the help of her co-songwriter, rhythm guitarist and former beau Steve Poltz, she was indulging in whimsical scat exchanges with electric guitarist Doug Pettibone or strapping a Telecaster on herself to help crank up "Down So Long" and a few other surprisingly raucous rockers. Granted, no one would mistake Jewel for Courtney Love, not even when she let down her hair near the end of the two-hour concert. But apart from a few shrill vocals and ponderous ballads, her performance was passionate and varied enough to silence even some of her most vocal detractors.
Playing percussive acoustic guitar and instantly winning over the crowd with his sardonic view of life, Poltz preceded Jewel onstage with a delightfully offbeat collection of mostly original material. Suffice to say, he was responsible for a lot of welcome comic relief and had no problem getting the crowd to sing along when the subject turned to his twin passions: baseball and "Star Wars."