A spirited night with Jenny Lewis
In the past, when Jenny Lewis has gone out on tour, she has dressed up for the occasion: a silver-sequined girl-group dress when the Watson Twins served as her backup, an acrobat's outfit the last time her band Rilo Kiley came through town. But clad in jeans and a T-shirt, Lewis was in casual mode at the House of Blues on Wednesday. Her performance followed suit, as she tackled her material with a minimum of fuss but an abundance of spirit.
Lewis was wildly confident, and she had every reason to be. The freight-train inertia of "See Fernando" used to serve as a mid-set climax; these days, it's kicking off the entire evening. Lewis seemed to move from one high point to another. The high, liquid bass and slow guitar sweep of "Pretty Bird" gave way to the roots-rock gem "Carpetbaggers," where guitarists Johnathan Rice and Danielle Haim and drummer Barbara Gruska provided a three-part harmony that elevated the chorus effortlessly.
"Jack Killed Mom" came soon after, charged with electricity and building up pressure until it burst on the refrain. The band returned to that level of fervor later with the coiled, multipart "The Next Messiah."
As was the case when Lewis performed with the Watson Twins, it was a pair of women who seemed to provide particular support. Gruska took to her drums with enough gleeful energy to fuel a Jonas Brother or two, and she and Haim sang backup on the otherwise solo "Trying My Best to Love You" and traded instruments on the new song "The Big Wave." The two of them ended the show alone onstage, pounding on drums in an ecstatic joint solo.
Maybe it's that respite from the boy's club of Rilo Kiley that keeps Lewis's solo career brewing as a release valve. But the boundaries between that and her band, usually quite firm, softened with Lewis's solo acoustic version of "Silver Lining," which was a Rilo Kiley song, and "The Big Wave," which could have been. If those were signs that Rilo Kiley is potentially being phased out, the rest of the evening showed there's something equally wonderful ready to take its place.
Lewis bandmate Farmer Dave Scher opened with songs that ranged from Talking Heads-style light funk to atmospheric roots-rock, but he was as low-key as if he were wandering around his living room. Providence band Deer Tick followed with an updated take on Uncle Tupelo-era Jay Farrar that was spirited enough to make the crowd almost forget that it was waiting for Lewis. Almost.