Niagara Fallsview Casino
Jan 12, 2017
Concert Review by Darren Hancock
Jewel Kilcher is the real deal.
As I sat in my seat in row 7 on the floor of Niagara Fallsview Casino theater, quiet music played in the background as the big screens displayed advertisements of upcoming shows. On my left was another media journalist covering the concert, and my right was a self-proclaimed “die hard Jewel fan” who had seen her show numerous times. The only items on the stage were a small table (with a black tablecloth topped only with a flower pot and a bottle of water), a microphone stand, and two acoustic guitars. Two stage technicians were finishing up tuning the guitars as people were being ushered to their seats. At 8:30pm sharp the music faded, the projector screen slowly raised, the lights dimmed, and with no introduction Jewel walked out onto the stage resulting in unsolicited applause from her already-receptive audience.
Without saying a word, she picked up one of the guitars and immediately started playing her first song “Near Me Always”. As the first lyrics “Please don’t say I love you” effortlessly flowed, it was instantly obvious why she was on that stage, and why this sold out crowd was thrilled to be in the same room with her. It was the voice of an angel. After the song was done and the roar of the applause died down, her show REALLY began… with an intimate monologue to her fans.
She was quick to tell us that her real name is Jewel. The use of her actual name was only the tip of the “authenticity iceberg” of this amazing artist. She apologized for having a cough, and joked that at least she had a “Big Band” behind her to hide her vocal flaws. This was particularly funny because there was NO band (but also no detectable vocal flaws). She glanced at the big screen to her right that was displaying a live video image of herself, and joked about her big nose filling the screen. The audience was instantly amused and comfortable… she had us in the palm of her hands for the rest of the evening.
As a singer/songwriter Jewel’s personality comes out in her music, but seeing her in a live setting, engaging the audience, reveals much more than her songs alone could. It is evident early into the show that she is a storyteller, both humourous and charismatic… there are clever jokes peppered throughout her stories, keeping the crowd entertained while sharing an intimate history of her life’s journey. She talked of her upbringing in Alaska, living in a “colonial home” which meant no electricity or running water. She explained that due to this childhood she can now tell her 6yr old son Kase that she actually WAS “raised in a barn” and is therefore permitted to leave doors open. She explained how she had to relinquish a hunting knife when attending the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan… apparently once they discovered she was from Alaska they understood why she had the knife, and why she was unaware it was unacceptable to carry one in the school.
She continued sharing information about her life. She talked about almost dying from a kidney infection in the parking lot of a hospital; they refused to treat her because she had no insurance, but a nice doctor who witnessed her being turned away found her in pain in her car and gave her antibiotics, saved her life, and treated her for years afterwards. She told us how her car got stolen when she was homeless (her car “was” her home), and how this theft affected her agoraphobia. She pointed out the irony of having a fear of leaving your house when you are homeless, and having her “home” stolen wreaked havoc on her psyche. She admitted to being a shoplifter, although she only took food. One day she saw a sundress she wanted and couldn’t afford, and as she was stealing it caught her reflection and realized she was becoming a statistic. Believing we are all taught an “emotional language” in our childhood that we are destined to repeat, she put the dress back and started to look at her life, and decided to observe her hands because “hands are servants of thought” and what you do with your hands reveals a lot about yourself.
Writing songs was her therapy. She spoke about how she approached a coffee shop that was going out of business, and asked if she could play her own songs there for a take at the door. The shop owners agreed, and she played every Thursday, building up a larger following week after week. After a few months a local radio DJ started playing a bootleg copy of one of her songs she wrote called “Hands”, which she performed for us next. This was followed with “My Father’s Daughter”, a touching tribute to her Dad, a musician himself who started her in the biz (the album version of this song features Dolly Parton on the track).
Then something truly unique and genuine happened. She asked the audience what WE wanted to hear, and if WE had any questions for her..! It felt like we were all back in that coffee shop, not just watching her show but becoming a part of it, shouting out requests and interview questions. When a fan asked her to perform her favorite song she’d written, she played a perky tongue-in-cheek number entitled “Catch a Cold” with lines like “‘Cause when your nose is running it’s a perfect time for kissing and hugging. Oh do you do you wanna wanna catch a cold with me?” it was an instant crowd pleaser. She sang “Violet Eyes” a song about a friend who she lost to cancer years ago. The vocal runs in her performance of “Intuition” left me speechless with mouth gaping open. When asked where she got the guitar she was playing, she told us she owned it since she was 18 years old, it was bought to replace the guitar that was in her stolen car, and it’s name is “Bird”.
In addition to sharing her very soul with us, she performed many other songs including “Break Me”, “Pretty Faced Fool”, and closed the show with her debut hits “Foolish Games” (her tribute to the style of Leonard Cohen), “You Were Meant For Me” and finally “Who Will Save Your Soul”. The entire crowd went into an uproar of applause, and we all left feeling a little more connected to the artist known as “Jewel” than we were an hour and a half ago. Her natural ability to work the crowd was supported by her intelligence and wit, and only surpassed by her intense lyrical prowess and vocal genius. I’ve learned her followers are called “Everyday Angels”, and when she sings it certainly sounds nothing short of angelic.