Jenny Lewis Rises Up With Fists

Got a belated birthday present from my darling wife on Friday night; we went to Santa Cruz to see Jenny Lewis in concert! She rocks. And Jenny Lewis is nice also.

Jenny Lewis is the female in the indie pop band Rilo Kiley. She also has two solo albums. Rabbit Fur Coat came out two years ago, and she is currently touring for her newest album, Acid Tongue.

Julie and I got out of work then went over the hill to Santa Cruz and parked on the street across from the venue. That felt really weird. I’m not used to parking so close without paying some silly amount, but it’s Santa Cruz; it’s just different out there, man.

We walked up to The Crepe Place where we had (wait for it) soup. OK, ok, we had crepes. We got the brie and pesto appetizer crepe then I had the Jambalaya crepe and Julie got the Smoked Salmon one (I think). Great service and it was very tasty.

We walked back over to the Rio Theater in time for the opening act, and we settled in to seats in the middle of the 5th row. There’s a good sized dancefloor/standing area in front of the stage, but the stage (and seats) are elevated enough that you can see pretty well from almost anywhere.

The opening act was Pierre De Reeder, who is the bassist for Rilo Kiley. The second act was Beachwood Sparks whose organ player stayed onstage to play pedal steel guitar for Jenny Lewis. The openers were both good; they had similar music styles to Jenny Lewis, and the set lists were progressively more rocking as they got going.

When Jenny Lewis took the stage, though, it ratched the room up a couple notches. She has so much energy on stage and her voice is so earnest and powerful that the songs are nothing short of beguiling. “Rise Up With Fists” is still my favorite song (it’s off Rabbit Fur Coat), though her newer songs were great also. “Jack Killed Mom” is a barnburner of a song. I hadn’t heard any of the new album before seeing the show, so I need to give them all another listen. The encore was a duet with boyfriend and guitarist Jonathan Rice; they covered “Love Hurts” which I knew as a Roy Orbison song (the B-side to Running Scared), and Julie knew as a rock ballad by Nazereth. Turns out it was first recorded as an Everly Brothers song but written by Boudleaux Bryant who with wife Felice wrote a lot of music for the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and more.

There’s a lot of collaborators on her album, and it makes for a great set. Elvis Costello sings together with Jenny on the duet “Carpetbaggers.” M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel from She & Him (playing at Bimbo’s 11/2 and 11/3, btw) separately play and sing along with Jenny on a few songs. I told Julie she’d have to seriously lash me to the seat should Jenny Lewis and Zooey Deschanel appear onstage simultaneously. Luckily this did not happen.

Jenny Lewis’s solo work reaches towards the roots of music that is decidedly American. It’s really the best way I can describe it. To the untrained ear it’s dismissed as country, but if you blanket assign country to all music that has some twang in it, you really need to expand that definition. This music genre (which I haven’t figured out the name for) makes me think of harvest parties and hoedowns, but it also makes me think of people working hard with tools in their hands and listening to stories of their neighbors and caring about each other. Another band that I like that falls into this playlist is Calexico. It’s music of that somewhat mythical Americana. I’m not always in the mood for it, but it certainly is nice to listen to when done right.

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