Last week Jewel serenaded a handful of fans to a special hour-long set in lower Manhattan at the iHeartRadio Theater presented by P.C. Richard & Son to celebrate the release of her Greatest Hits album. Eleven albums recorded over an eighteen-year span, with over 27 million of them sold is an incredible feat. Her catalog was yearning for a greatest hits compilation, so 2013 was a good year as any for a Jewel retrospective. After a brief introduction, the crowd cheers as Jewel steps on to the stage. She’s radiant, beautiful and collected. A string of lights are hung behind her that illuminate her tan skin. It’s just her, a string of lights and an acoustic guitar. Jewel proves that she doesn’t need a drummer, sound pedals or a lead guitarist. She can stand on her own with just a guitar and a microphone. Her performance is raw, intimate and confessional. It feels like an episode of MTV’s Unplugged or VH1’s Storytellers. Coincidentally, two television series that Jewel was featured on.
“I’m not used to people standing at my shows. It feels so punk rock. I guess I have to change my setlist to allow for some moshing,” she jokes about all the fans that are standing before her. One fan claims that this is her twentieth Jewel show she has been to. “Some people are the creepy cat lady. You’re the creepy Jewel lady,” Jewels jokes around. She continues to play around and admits that she knows who this Jewel fan is and that she stalks her back.
“It’s an interesting process going back and trying to figure out what to put on it because they wouldn’t all fit. So many singles,” Jewel jokes about compiling the songs for her Greatest Hits album. Her guitar is out of tune and she continues to ramble on as she tunes each string. A greatest hits album is not just compiling singles, it’s about making a cohesive collection of singles and non-singles that represent an artist’s career. According to Jewel it was exciting because she was able to redo some songs and release different versions of songs. “I got to sing with Kelly Clarkson on “Foolish Games” which was really cool. She’s a freakish talent,” she tells the audience before she begins playing “Near You Always,” the first song of the night.
Jewel is startlingly charismatic. A woman whose debut album Pieces of You, a record of mostly ballads about heartbreak and the miseries and woes of the world, you would imagine a sullen yet serious artist on stage. Perhaps, in the vein of Fiona Apple or Cat Power. But neither of those artists achieved the success that Jewel did. Pieces of You went 12x platinum. With that kind of success an artist must adapt to their environment and learn how to get by in the music industry. Eighteen years later, Jewel is a seasoned performer, who can carry an entire show by herself. She is full of heartfelt stories about a song’s origin and can effortlessly interact with any audience.
But things are not all duets with talented American Idol winners and jokes about creepy cat ladies. Before Jewel performs her single “Hands” she tells a story about being homeless and living inside of her car, almost dying in the parking lot of a hospital and her brief stint with shoplifting. “It started with carrots, which are apparently the gateway vegetable, because they led to the hard stuff [like] peanut butter,” she tries to make light of her shoplifting days. Jewel continues to paint her picture darker by incorporating a story about camping in the mountains of northern California with her future husband in 2001. On September 14th they returned to the ranch and began to notice flags at half-mast and soon learned that America was attacked just three days prior. She heard a DJ on the radio dedicate her song “Hands” to America, which was going through such a dark time, not unlike the dark time she was going through when she wrote the song.
She asks the audience what songs they would like to hear. Sometimes she shoots them down, confessing she doesn’t remember the lyrics, other times she gives in. A fan asks if she can play “Rosey and Mick” off of her 2008 country album Perfectly Clear and she does. Since her greatest hits album was released that day she felt obliged to play some of them including but not limited to “Foolish Games,” “You Were Meant For Me” and the song that made her famous “Who Will Save Your Soul.” By request, she also plays “Satellite” off of her 2006 album Goodbye Alice in Wonderland. She does an acoustic version of the tongue-in-cheek pop song “Intuition” (from 0304) and it actually fits amongst even her saddest ballads. Even without the French accordion and drum machine, we’re all brought back to 2003, as she sings about JLo’s butt, Kate Moss and Charlie Sheen.
“You’re the ship. I’m the wreck. You’re the bomb. I’m the tick,” she sings on “Two Hearts Breaking,” a new song she recorded for her Greatest Hits album. It’s a song that seems to incorporate all the “pieces” that make up the artist known as Jewel. It is definitely a song written by a singer-songwriter who grew up listening to and playing folk music. She sings about the dark times that love can sometimes bring. But there’s also a hint of hope in the chorus. The production on the recorded track borrows some pop elements, in the way that Taylor Swift does. Is Taylor this generation’s Jewel?* Two artists attempting to keep one foot in their country/folk beginnings and the other foot testing the waters of pop music.
Before playing “Who Will Save Your Soul,” her last song of the night, Jewel lightens up the mood one last time by explaining that she sounds like Kermit the Frog on her first album. She recommends the audience to go back and listen to Pieces of You and promises you’ll cringe just as much as she does when hearing it. Jewel couldn’t guarantee a yodel at the end of the night because she was nursing a sore throat. But after a heart-wrenching performance she did end the night by yodeling a song her father taught her when she was six-years-old. Despite her discomfort she yodeled like she always had, riling up the audience as she yodeled faster and faster with each verse. A yodel is the quintessential ending to a Jewel performance; it seemed like that night, it was a special thank you to all of her many fans for supporting her for all of these years.
*For the record, I’m not a Taylor Swift fan but I can see the similarities between her and Jewel. Also, Jewel was an artist I couldn’t admit to liking back in the 1990s. It would have ruined my punk rock cred if I confessed to borrowing my sister’s copy of Pieces of You to learn how to play “You Were Meant For Me” on guitar. Fast-forward to 2013 and I can openly admit to liking Jewel. This is why this iHeartRadio show meant so much to me. It was a coming out of sorts. My heart had been longing for almost fifteen years for this day to come. I stood in that theater as a proud Jewel fan, amazed and awestruck, as chills ran down my Jewel-loving spine.