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Once she hits the stage, Rickie Lee Jones is fearless.

Forget about the manic depression, the heartbreaks, the growing old. She is in her comfort zone -- and in the moment, wherever that takes her.

On Tuesday night at the Dakota Jazz Club, the revered Los Angeles singer-songwriter waltzed onstage late and introduced herself, offered a piece she'd written the day before and asked the audience to sing along, and did an impression of her teenage self tripping on acid and encountering her mom at a carnival.

Though not the best or most artful Jones concert ever in the Twin Cities, it was the most intimate performance she's given here -- and most special. As one clubgoer said afterward, it was fascinating to watch a brilliant mind work. Indeed.

Jones, 54, who won the Grammy for best new artist in 1980, puts the art in artist. Like Tom Waits, Randy Newman and Lyle Lovett, she is an American original working in the singer-songwriter realm. Whether she does boho jazz, hip pop or experimental rock, Jones shows a consistent connectedness with her songs that make her concerts unpredictable, organic and exciting.

Much of the material in Tuesday's 95-minute set was taken from an as-yet-untitled album that Jones expects to release in September. The spontaneous and quick-witted Jones once had to ask her sidemen for the key signature and sometimes guessed at song titles, often making light of them.

"This is probably called 'Bonfire' or 'Bonfires in Hell,'" she explained before singing a wonderful, bittersweet number that was slower than a dirge.

"Rehab" was a hilarious street-corner rap song about drugs and rehabilitation. "The Downtown Serenade" was a smoldering blues-jazz that evoked Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" but never did have any vocals beyond Jones' scats, howls and coos. "Charlotte's Birthday Suit" (or "Suite," the songwriter said) was a sweet salute on her daughter's 21st birthday, the perfect blend of innocence, pain, bliss and motherly love.

It was one of the night's highlights, along with "Cycles," made famous by Frank Sinatra in the late 1960s. Jones explained that the songwriter had committed suicide this month and the writer's sister had sent Jones an e-mail. That in-the-moment back story added to the poignance of this tune about the yin and yang of being down but pressing on.

Backed by a terrific combo featuring ace bassist Rob Wasserman (Van Morrison, David Grisman, Lou Reed) and L.A. drum star Don Heffington (Lone Justice, Bob Dylan, the Jayhawks), Jones played mostly electric or acoustic guitar as well as piano on a few numbers. And, of course, she did a handful of her more famous songs, visiting Coolsville with "The Last Chance Texaco" and "We Belong Together," and treating the soldout crowd to a syncopated, breezily soulful reading ("the Mott the Hoople version") of "Satellites."

Opening was the unadvertised Parisota Hot Club, a trio that covered Django Reinhardt and the Beatles. That meant that Jones took the stage more than 75 minutes after the published start time. Here's hoping tonight's return engagement will be more prompt but just as unpredictable and special.

Jon Bream • 612-673-1719

RICKIE LEE JONES

With: Parisota Hot Club

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.

Tickets: $20-$65, 612-332-1010.

Web: www.dakotacooks.com