I was a big Rilo Kiley fan (RIP) back in the day mostly because of Jenny Lewis.* I liked her simple, slightly twangy and talky singing style. I liked the straightforwardness of the lyrics. I think Rilo Kiley was easily dismissed early on in a lot ways, mostly because Jenny Lewis was the front man and she was just some pretty, former child actor from Southern California and nothing of substance has ever come from Southern California. (j/k)(not j/k).
But you know, Rilo Kiley is no more and Jenny Lewis is still around and kicking, so I guess that says something. She was the headliner for the KUTX Austin birthday show, maybe because they’ve been wearing out her newest album The Voyager (2014) on the station, but probably also because Jenny Lewis is just pretty fucking good.
Let me just add something about the Bass Concert Hall. Lewis noted it was maybe the fanciest place she’d ever played, and yes, I’m going to believe that. Bass Concert Hall is the type of treacherous place when you’re at serious risk of dying should you trip and fall in the upper levels. It also has that clunky charm of an older theater where if one guy in your row is tapping his foot, everyone in the row feels it because those seats are tiny and rickety and all attached to each other.
But the acoustics are legitimately amazing.
So when Jenny Lewis and her band started playing, honestly, I was underwhelmed. It was sort of like, “Meh, it’s a five piece guitar indie rock band” and there was nothing really remarkable about any of it. Plus, I’d just seen tUnE-yArDs knock it out of the park. But as soon as Lewis put down her guitar and started swaggering around the stage, I got it. I got why she’s so well-regarded not only as a song writer but also as a performer. The music itself she’s doing as a solo artist isn’t groundbreaking in any way, even though it’s very solid. But Lewis as a performer is sassy and engaging and incredibly at ease on stage. The stage decoration looks like Rainbow Bright threw up, but I get the choice. She’s been wearing a white suit at a lot of her recent gigs, plus she’s got this girly airbrushed guitar that looks like Lisa Frank has doodled all over it. She’s putting forward this image of a feminine, candy-colorful sweetness, but her music and her lyrics are still very wry and clever and hit these hard emotional peaks before you even know what’s upon you. Oh, and she’s got this glittery box that at first I figured was just a monitor and I thought, “That’s a pretty glittery stage monitor” but no, it’s just a box that she stands on to sing. On stage. WHICH IS AWESOME.
About halfway through her set, there were some giant balloons that were released and people were batting them around the audience and I’m still not sure if they were there because it was the KUTX birthday show, or if Jenny Lewis travels with giant balloons to all of her shows. I’m choosing to believe she travels with balloons.
Musically, I like the more stripped-down Jenny Lewis sound from her Rilo Kiley days, but performance-wise, I’m thinking solo Lewis has her beat. At the end of the show she said goodbye and walked off stage as her band continued to play, which is a move I adore from any musician who has the balls to do it. For an encore they did a great rendition of “With Arms Outstretched” from Rilo Kiley’s The Execution of All Things (2002). She also performed “Acid Tongue” from her solo album of the same name with her playing the acoustic guitar and the rest of her band huddled behind her, singing into one microphone. It was particularly nice way to end her set.
Lewis is on tour throughout April and May so check out dates here.
Listen to her new album here.
Also check out her sly indie-rock at work in this intentionally but maybe also unintentionally hilarious video for “One of the Guys”
*Okay, if we’re going to be perfectly honest here, I first became a Jenny Lewis fan because of Troop Beverly Hills, the flawless 1989 film that played a pivotal role in my girlhood.