Last year was a wee bit strange for the 22-year-old Jewel, who
began the year playing clubs -- including a few in the Bay Area -- lucky if 20
people turned up to hear songs from her then-two-year-old record, Pieces of
You. Actually, it took about two and a half years before the re-release of
"Who Will Save Your Soul?" saw any kind of respectable airplay on radio
stations or MTV; before that Jewel had appeared once or twice on late-night
VH-1 but it seemed no one was ready for her music.
So it seemed ironic
Tuesday night (April 1) that Jewel performed to a sold-out crowd at Berkeley's
4,000-seat Community Theater, less than a year after being laughed out of
smaller venues. The singer gave abundant thanks to Tuesday's audience, and was
rewarded with not one, not two, but three standing ovations.
hilarious alterna-folk openers the Rugburns finished their set, Jewel took the
stage -- dark except for a wing of twinkling faux candles for which this, her
Tiny Lights Tour, is named -- and voiced an a capella verse of "Near You
Always" before taking to her guitar. Listeners who haven't heard Jewel perform
live before might be surprised at the volume of work she's amassed during her
years as a San Diego cafe performer; though she included several songs from
Pieces of Your in her set, they were balanced by older works and some
incredible new material -- some so new she made up the words as she went
"Enter from the East," for instance, revealed a deeper,
sultrier alto melody than anything Jewel's done before, giving necessary weight
to lines like, "My heart has four empty rooms/Three wait for lightning/And one
waits for you" -- and yet her voice fluttered effortlessly into the upper
registers during the chorus. She was joined by a cellist, whose sweetly somber
performance blessed the song -- and others throughout the night.
guitar intro to "Don't," a cheerful fan shouted out, "I love you, Jewel!"
causing her to flub her part and respond, "I know, but I hate it when
you do that. I always get so embarrassed. Thank you, though." She recovered
nicely; in fact, Jewel showed herself to be quite a self-assured performer,
weaving tales in between her songs.
At one point in the set Jewel invited
the Rugburns -- vocalist and guitarist Steve Poltz, bassist John Castro and
drummer Jeff Aafedt -- to join her. She told the story of how she and Poltz
(who share songwriting credits on a couple of Jewel's tunes) had taken a
vacation together and, wanting to go whale-watching, were invited by several
law enforcement officials out onto their boat. Halfway through the expedition,
they discovered the reason for the fuzz's boat trip was a marijuana bust. Jewel
and Poltz, stricken, were handed a pair of machine guns with which to help nab
the dealers. When the afternoon was finished, the cops offered them as much pot
as they could carry away.
"Our vacation was completely ruined," Jewel
commented, "but the point is, we got this song out of it," and the band
launched into "You Were Meant for Me." The Rugburns remained on-stage to back
Jewel for several songs including "Adrian," "Who Will Save Your Soul?" and a
few new numbers.
Jewel occasionally allowed her sense of humor to shine
through, as with "Cold Song," the cutest song ever written about sharing
the influenza virus (it even closes with an impossible Dr. Seuss-esque tongue
twister); she claims she wrote it in her sleep. Later, she played a number
called "Race Car Driver," a satirical piece on men who think with their, er,
cars: "I'm just a small man with a real big car," she warbled with ample irony.
In other moments, Jewel stretched her considerable vocal talents to their
limits, as with the yodeling chorus in her rocked-out version of "Chime Bells,"
at the end of which most of the audience was howling for her to yodel
faster. Another a cappella number -- this one sung in the style of those
wartime girl groups -- described the unfortunate effects an overly sultry night
might have on a lover's otherwise aroused condition.
Jewel often returned
to her more heartfelt songs, closing the two-hour set with a melancholy version
of "Amen" as a starry sky was projected onto the screens behind her. "Where are
my angels, where's my golden wand?" she sang in earnest. "Where is my hope now
that my heroes are gone?" Although Jewel often sings of the bleakness she sees
in the world around her, there's no doubt that her listeners has found a
heroine in her.