At Sunday Night Rocksino Show
December 2nd, 2018
You know, it takes balls the size of our 49th state to attempt a rendition of "Ave Maria," especially at a pop concert. But, if anyone could attempt it and then pull it off with aplomb, it would be Alaska's biggest export since Jack London. I know that technically, London wasn't from Alaska, but hearing Jewel Kilcher, a homepsun girl-next-door kinda girl (if next door happens to have moose and grizzly bears, that is) knock that Italian aria out of the park was truly a thing to behold. At forty-four, her voice has shown a maturity that has brought a little more gravitas to a range that can yodel with ease and then jump down to a near-raspy alto with no difficulty.
One of many females that came to prominence in the late 1990s, Jewel relocated to Los Angeles from Alaska in the early 1990s. Along with Sheryl Crow, Fiona Apple, Alanis Morissette, Paula Cole, and Shania Twain, Jewel brought female singer/songwriters to the forefront of the turn-of-the-century music industry. Her vocal talents, as well as her dynamic phrasing, propelled her to the top of the charts for several years.
She played a fantastic show tonight at Northfield's Hard Rock Rocksino with her family in tow. Called Jewel's Handmade Holiday Tour, the two-hour gig opened with her father and two brothers in an act reminiscent of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion.
Jewel's family, combining a bit of homespun wit, plenty of dad jokes, and tunes that represent a slice of far-removed Americana, provided a great warm up for the songstress. Her father Atz and siblings Atz Lee and Nikos did Jewel proud on lead guitar, standup bass, and rhythm guitar. Discussing a self-imposed hardscrabble life in Homer, Alaska, the elder Kilcher let his boys shine on a few tunes and then took the reins on a tragic song about a beautiful, large black stallion, who was killed by a neighbor near their Homer homestead. The evening was punctuated by music that strayed away from traditional love both lost and found, and relied heavily on themes of family and resourcefulness.
When Jewel took the stage, her family departed to be replaced by Jewel's backup band. A talented crew of two guitarists, bass player, keyboard player, and drummer inserted themselves into the Christmas-themed stage, planted amongst the seasonal pine trees, poinsettias, and shafts of colorful light that danced over the stage.
Beginning the set with a handful of Christmas standards, she lent her own take and delightful phrasing to "The Christmas Song," "O Holy Night," and "Joy to the World" before wowing the audience with "Ave Maria." I held my breath as I anticipated a missed note or crack of her voice on that incredibly hard tune to master. Incredibly, it was note perfect. Not to fear though, she studied operatic voice while in her teens and it appears those lessons weren't a waste of her instructors' time.
It appeared at about halfway through the evening, she decided to toss out the set and sing whatever the audience expected to hear. Departing from past stops on this tour, she jettisoned a few fan faves such as "Foolish Games" for lesser known tunes like "Goodbye Alice in Wonderland," from the 2006 drop of the same name.
One thing I've always detested from audiences is when they arbitrarily shout out tunes in the hopes the artist will comply. Jewel entertained the rude outbursts that happened each time she took a minute breather between songs. She actually shrugged and changed things up a bit. Offering "Who Will Love Me?," a haunting solo acoustic performance punctuated by eight white spotlights splayed out over the stage, Jewel sparkled in that moment.
Inviting her father back onstage, the duo explained a little more of their homestead life and her unconventional upbringing. She mentioned how her grandfather escaped Switzerland on the last ship allowed to leave Europe on the eve of World War II, and how he settled as a homesteader in Alaska. Perhaps Europe and its culture was left behind but the musical and artistic traditions that the family had celebrated for generations made their way to Homer. The pair then yodeled their way through a tune called "Homestead." That performance alone was worth the ticket price, but the next offering, "My Father's Daughter," really became the highlight for me.
Sitting five rows in front of me was the elder Kilcher. As Jewel explained the lack of electricity, indoor plumbing, or the financial means to buy each other Christmas presents, she gently segued into the song honoring her father and all that he had done for her and her siblings after their mother left.
Atz, standing in the aisle, offered his hand to a female patron and danced with her for a few moments. Then he moved onto a lady in the next aisle, and so forth. Most of the people in attendance were not witness to this; I was moved by this and, at that moment, imagined how the patriarch of this tight little family must have offered his hand to Jewel and danced with her around a raging Christmas fire in their rural Alaskan cabin.
It was a very homespun evening. She, of course, offered her Top 40 hits, performing a charming duet of "You Were Meant For Me" with her younger brother.
And, of course, we all expected to hear that. What I didn't expect was to be moved by the, dare I say, downright homespun simplicity of the evening. The music, the stories, and the ambiance created by the Kilcher family really left me feeling that I was in a rustic cabin, greeted by sparkling white snow on a crisp winter evening while a crackling fire was roaring on the hearth.
Garrison Keillor would be envious.
Review by Brian M. Lumley