CAMBRIDGE - Few noticed the small woman being led by the hand of a muscle-bound minder through the half-filled Middle East Downstairs Tuesday night. Despite wearing the Native American headdress she models on the cover of her second album, "Four on the Floor," actress-turned-rocker Juliette Lewis snuck past fans who stared at the empty stage and occasionally squealed in anticipation.
Moments later, the 34-year-old was onstage with her quartet, the Licks, frenetically swirling her hair around and unleashing her superb voice on the lusty, spitfire "20-Year-Old." The feathered headband was history.
"We all came together in this room for a reason," Lewis later exclaimed, but she didn't elaborate on what that was. Some came out of curiosity to see a Hollywood star: the vengeful, bruised nymphet of such movies as "Natural Born Killers," perhaps? Those people filed out halfway through the set.
Most people, however, were there for Juliette Lewis, the spirited, talented nymphet who's been entertaining her inner rock star lately. Those fans stayed until the very end, a wise move. During the dramatic "Death of a Whore," the buzzing guitars and driving beat quieted and Lewis added a sung-spoken adjunct: "I'm just a little girl all alone in this world," she repeated, turning Gwen Stefani's ironic manipulative line into tragic fact. "The brutality of this world," Lewis exclaimed, "and we're all able to go on and on."
"That was great," Lewis said later, clearly purged. Soon she lightened up, adding a riotous, fun cover of Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" and ending her hourlong set with the punky "So Amazing." A bristling encore of "Get Up" and the percussive crowd-pleaser "You're Speaking My Language" sealed the actress' rock credibility. Obviously, Lewis wasn't just getting into character, but rather she's just started to channel her rock muse.