Live Review: Jenny Lewis @ Meany Hall 1/21/09

Jenny Lewis

review by Katy McCourt-Basham

Just a few months after her last Seattle show, opening for Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst, Jenny Lewis made a slightly quieter return, headlining at UW’s Meany Hall — with no band.

Opening for Lewis was Portland band Norfolk & Western. The music was pretty mellow as a rule, and the musicians were all very talented, which is not surprising, since the band is comprised of a couple of folks who have worked with M. Ward, a member of Loch Lomond and an ex-member of The Decemberists. Though their set was a solid one, and though they were not without their own little quirks (like playing a saw), Norfolk & Western didn’t stand out a whole lot. They mostly ended up sounding like every other popular mellow indie band. They were a fine opening act, but I can’t say that I would pay to see them headline.

Next, Jenny Lewis took the stage to resounding cheers from the crowd. She launched into her first song “Rabbit Fur Coat”. She played completely alone, which is unusual for Lewis, who is usually accompanied by her “solo project” band, or the rest of Rilo Kiley. She seemed nervous out there on her lonesome, and explained to the crowd that Meany (and the crowd) were a little bit bigger than she had expected.

She introduced her next song as having been “written about a man that lost his job in Washington yesterday”. She then began to play “It’s a Hit”. The crowd was really excited — likely from a combination of her reference to Obama taking office, and surprise that Lewis was playing a Rilo Kiley song. It’s not all too common for musicians on solo tours to play songs from popular bands that they are a part of, and it was a very pleasant surprise.

The mix of older and newer Rilo Kiley songs, as well as music from her album with The Watson Twins and her newest album Acid Tongue, all combined with the simplicity of her being so often alone on stage, made the whole feeling of the show very intimate. Some of her songs were performed with Jonathan Rice, who co-wrote some of the songs on Acid Tongue, and every so often with some of the members of Norfolk & Western.

Jenny Lewis & Johnathan Rice – End of the Affair
(live at Meany Hall 1/21/09)

Lewis’ voice was flawless, despite her nervousness. Except for a few mistakes and false starts on her B-side duet with Rice, called “Paradise” (from which she recovered with grace), she sounded almost studio recording perfect. One of my favorite parts of seeing Jenny Lewis play live is her infectious charm. Lewis really knows how to connect with a crowd. It was fun watching Lewis “banter” with Rice, as well. The way they interact is very sweet, and has a bit of a “June and Johnny” feel. They had some cute stories to tell as well, like how they got Elvis Costello to record “Carpetbaggers” with them by emailing him a YouTube video of them singing with a puppet in his place. Apparently, Costello said that he would “crush that puppet” in the studio.

Altogether, this was a great show. Lewis played choice songs from all of her major musical projects. She got a standing ovation, played a fantastic encore, and still left us looking for more. I will definitely not be missing her show next time she comes back to town.

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