"The real thing is back in town," sang Rickie Lee Jones on Tuesday, during an epic rendition of her 1979 tune "Coolsville" at the Wilshire Theater. The veteran singer-songwriter wasn't referring to herself, but that line reflected the newfound purpose in "The Evening of My Best Day," her first collection of new songs in six years.
Some people say bad times make for better art, and such new selections as "Ugly Man" were clearly inspired by Jones' anger over George W. Bush being president, and the wars on terrorism and Iraq.
But not even her most obvious protest song, the stark spiritual "Tell Somebody (Repeal the Patriot Act Now)," sounded strident; instead, it was almost a joyful call to arms.
Within the brisk two-hour show, Jones let some songs sprawl, to particularly impressive effect with the vocal improv that ended "Coolsville."
The set spanned her career, with standouts including a sophisticated "Young Blood," an exuberant "Flying Cowboys" and a fun duet on David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" with impromptu guest vocalist Syd Straw.
Along with limning romance intricately and without cliche, Jones expressed concern over the world's troubles without bitterness.
Her comment about being on the left generated much applause, but the rapture she radiated throughout was what made you want to do more than just sit in the dark, consoling yourself with her music's singular beauty.