by Mike Corrigan and Clint Burgess

Jewel's gone techno. Or has she? If all you've ever heard from the multi-platinum superstar are the songs from her fifth and latest album, 0304, you'd be perfectly justified in pegging the singer/songwriter as a beat-happy boogie track diva with a fixation on '80s dance pop. Her latter day videos and photo shoots seem to further justify those assumptions.

Yet with Jewel, looks have rarely ever made the book. Spokane audiences will get a chance to dissect that muddled metaphor this Friday night as the recording artist known as Jewel returns to the 'Kan for a show at the Big Easy Concert house -- an intimate venue, indeed, for one of such impressive star power.

Jewel Kilcher is quite simply one of the most successful female performers of her time. Yet it didn't happen for her overnight. And even after she became a Recording Industry Association of America darling, her transition from socially conscious, poetic neo-folkie to socially conscious, neatly packaged pop diva was not without travail -- and one fairly lengthy hiatus.

She started out performing with her parents in Homer, Alaska, and was raised in what could accurately be called a shotgun shack. Her parents later divorced, and Jewel eventually found herself in San Diego with no money and only a dream of stardom to push her forward. A coffeehouse gig discovery eventually led to a recording contract with Atlantic -- and her first album, Pieces of You (1995), which has since sold something like 10 million copies.

But with the rush of success came the rush to repeat that success, and Jewel soon found herself lost in the business and image-manufacturing side of the industry. Her sophomore effort, 1998's Spirit, came across as overly serious and sanctimonious. After a year away from the gilded cage of pop success, the performer re-emerged in 2001 with This Way, which signaled a return of sorts to the fragile, raw and immediate feel of her debut coupled with a newfound songwriting maturity and a willingness to experiment with style.

So what's the deal with 0304?

Jewel herself refers to the beat-heavy new album as "intelligent escapism."

"I have a very dark sense of humor," she says. "I love irreverence and I'm very passionate. But I think largely that hasn't come across to the public, which is why I wanted to do the record, to show these sides of me as well. So there are ironic, tongue-in-cheek songs on this record. As well as some very sexual ones."

This first single, "Intuition" (along with its eye-catching video) is typical of the direction and disposition of 0304.

"The lyrics are taking a tongue-and-cheek look at pop culture," says Jewel. "The whole song's really about media and media saturation and being able to step back from that. And it's probably the poppiest song I've ever written."

Hank is Back in Town -- Henry Rollins: spoken word artist. Henry Rollins: singer formerly of Black Flag, currently of the Rollins Band. Henry Rollins: unstoppable freight train. Since the very first moment he appeared on the popular culture radarscope -- as the "new" lead singer of the furious hardcore L.A. punk band, Black Flag -- Henry Rollins has mined an incredibly rich and unpredictable career for himself with a determination and clarity of vision once reserved for drill sergeants and religious zealots. He's back in town this Monday night at the Met Theater. And you can bet recent national and world events have provided him with lots of shiny new ammunition.

There's really no way you could cram this guy's career stats on a single trading card. But here's the breakdown, briefly: 21 albums (under both the Black Flag and Rollins Band banners), nine spoken word discs, 12 books, and gobs of exposure on television (including hosting his own show, TLC's Full Metal Challenge) and in film (The Chase, Johnny Mnemonic, Jackass: The Movie and most recently as a cop in Bad Boys II).

His bands and spoken word tours have taken him around the world and have garnered him a massive loyal fan base. He's an icon, a mythological beast and a herald in troubled times -- man, are they ever troubled right now -- beating the drum outside your window while you snooze and screaming "Wake up!"

But strip back the mythology that's built up around him over the years and what you find underneath is a hardworking guy with astute insights into the human condition and a way of expressing himself that is always entertaining and quite often hilarious.

Rollins typically has more irons in the fire than Edison in his prime, but when he's out there doing this spoken word thing, he's supremely focused on that and everything else gets put in the cooler.

"It keeps you pretty busy," he admits. "It's about six shows a week and it just kind of looms large in your day, where all things are kind of preparing you for the show. I can't even try and read a book past a certain part of the day just because I can't concentrate on it because I have a show to do."

And doing a tour like this one, he says (where it's just Hank up there with only a skimpy microphone for protection) is much more demanding than going out on the road with the guys in the Rollins Band.

"Touring with the band is just a bunch of physicality -- running and push ups and practice. That's a lot easier than going out alone on stage every night and trying to keep everyone with you. That's not easy. And with the band, it's the same songs every night. It's like you're in a cover band but you wrote the songs. It's a happy ritual like sex and eating. You've done it before and now it's up to the integrity of the performer to be open enough to really be into it every night. That's what we do. It's just being motivated and in love with rocking out.

"The talking tours," he continues, "are being alone on stage with no snare drum to keep you company, with nothing but a kind of randomness and your own will to make sense non-stop. Word for word, line for line, I whip our president's ass doing that. I'd like to see him speak for two hours with no notes."

The Rollins Show is not completely different each night ("I don't have enough life experience for that"), but it certainly evolves as the tour progresses, with material coming in and falling out of the set.

"I have to keep bringing in new stuff or I risk sounding stilted. And you can't do that because people will know if you're faking it. Performers sometimes think they can do that but audiences can always tell. I've found that really wanting to be up there, having good intentions and wanting to impart something worthy to the audience gets you through a lot of it."

Get your tickets now and get set for another long one. Last time he was in Spokane, Rollins kept the sold-out Met crowd riveted -- and in stitches -- for more than three hours.

Off the Sidelines -- The fact that the Side Project played its first 10 shows without a name speaks to the intermittent status of the band. No one in the group was quite sure what this "sometimes" band would become. However, at present this three-piece fashioned out of musicians from past local bands has emerged as an act that fuses a delicate musical delivery with a mature approach to songwriting and a piano to mix things up.

In a candlelit living room situated in Browne's Addition, deep in the late night hours, the band works through material for its upcoming CD release party at the Shop next Thursday. Suzie Anderson, who in the past has worked with Dax Johnson and most recently fronted Pitching Woo, lays down brilliant vocals comprised of lush melodies. She is accompanied by Ben Bradford on acoustic guitar, another local who earned his stripes with the band Flourish. Finally on the keys, Parker finalizes the mix with intricate and beautiful arrangements, all combining to create gorgeous noise not so commonly heard in this town.

The band spent the last eight months recording and self-producing its first full-length album entitled 14. The numerous hours spent working on the album forged intense personal bonds among the members of the Side Project and allowed for growth and development throughout the recording process.

"I always had the big dream to be in a band and make it, but there was never the right chemistry," Anderson says. "We worked so hard on this album, we really put a lot in to it." It was a learning process and, as the band discovered, things don't always go exactly as planned. "There were songs that were one or two takes and done in two hours. Then there was this particular song that took four months to finish," recalls Parker.

After giving the album a good once-over, it's obvious that this is a very personal statement. Engineered by local recording whiz kid Joe Varela, 14 is full of songs that portray strength, fragility and multiple dynamics that speak volumes to the talent found in this band. The technical quality of the recording is nothing short of magnificent and really showcases Varela's work behind the mixing board. Local support for the band has been overwhelming. They have packed the Caterina Winery numerous times and have made appearances at such venues as the Detour, Mootsy's and the Spike Coffeehouse.

"It's great that there are so many kids who support local music," Anderson says. "They can't get into the bars and they miss out on a lot because of that, but they are still getting out there and going to the shows."

Publication date: 03/11/04

Music Finds a Way: The Spokane Symphony @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Jan. 10
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