photo of Jenny Lewis the previous night by Dese’Rae L. Stage
b/k/a Jenny Lewis and the Rilo Kileys
Tuesday, June 3 2008
Hugh Hefner and the E! Network ruined the notion of the Girl Next Door. Specifically, with their show The Girls Next Door—Barbie-clones are not Girls Next Door in any neighborhood. Jenny Lewis, however, totally is. She projects a depth that you look for in Girls Next Door: you feel like you know her, during all the flips of hair and her potty-mouth crooning. Jenny gives every girl who has lived in a house in a neighborhood the idea that this multi-faceted persona is something attractive. And it should be, because it is. But the thing with girl-next-door types, as depicted in a slew of 1980s films of which Lewis dabbled in, is that there’s a critical point where those girls left that little bubble of innocence that you watched from the window. They stopped selling lemonade on sidewalks and chose to become popular. Jenny Lewis is now, like, a Totally Popular Chick. But those newfound friends, those newfound fans, the people who make her Popular, they still see this “everyday gal” quality about her. And that’s what makes her charming to three thousand people on a Tuesday night.
But what about the Boy Next Door? The one who’s forced to watch her grow up as he grows up, the little boy who becomes a dude who never quite develops the people skills she has? Watching from the window while she hawks Country Time to neighbors—well, you’re bound to develop a differently. Case in point: Lewis’s bandmate Blake Sennett. Whether or not Jenny Lewis has remained humble through Rilo Kiley’s surprising rise to the indie-pop-cum-fem empowerment chain, the guitarist and sometimes singer doesn’t really seem like he’s come to terms with how she’s the driving force of this group. No Jenny, no sell-out crowds. No Jenny, no magazine covers. No Jenny, no deafening screams whenever she says something nearly dumb as “Sometimes you just gotta throw in the towel and say ‘Fuck it,’” as a way of introducing “Breakin’ Up.” Watching these two on stage is like watching the awkward transformation Patrick Dempsey goes through during Can’t Buy Me Love.
Jenny bounces around the stage like a puberty-struck girl at a sleepover, her pajama jumpers helping the cause out a bit, as does the nonchalant, overwrought bangs that cover her eyes. She, like, totally doesn’t care, and probably looks like that when she wakes up. Meanwhile, Sennett’s trying to play catch up with Lewis’s neverending charisma—a lost cause if there ever was one. He makes dumb comments about the jail-like qualities of Terminal 5’s aesthetics. No response. He resorted to introducing the guitar tech as some sort of way to make it passive-aggressively known that he was still in the band, that he was worthy of some of that adulation thrown towards Lewis. No one cared. At one point, he did the obligatory rock move of throwing his guitar pick out into the crowd, and the strangest thing happened. As the object came close, the young ladies moved away. Dodged it. They then turned and looked at each other, as if to say “Why is this guy throwing shit at us?” The poor pick fell to the floor, likely to be swept up sometime early this morning with the rest of the garbage.
The other members of Rilo Kiley just keep to themselves, don’t try any grand rock gestures, let Jenny be Jenny. Musically, all five of them have their material perfected. They can deviate a bit from the set list, let us vote on the next song, and for the most part, keep tight rhythms. Meanwhile, Sennett hunkers down into some guitar licks and Jenny switches from bass to keys, to guitar to keys, keys to lead vocals to whatever else she wants. It sounds like a diverse scene, but for the most part they sound like what you’d hear on record.
So to get something out of this band, you have to look past the inoffensive pop they’re dabbling in and revert back to those multi-dimensional qualities Jenny possesses. And besides being sweet and tender and probably cool to drink with, it’s probably her “badass” posture that is most attractive. She spits her gum out on stage after “Close Call,” pouts her lips while delivering bass-heavy “The Moneymaker,” and gnarls her mouth into this cute little curl of a snarl, when playing her more “aggressive” tunes such as “It’s A Hit” and “Capturing Moods.” She stomps her feet during the marching anthem, “A Better Son/Daughter,” a song that wrestles with these same issues of growing up, becoming that fully realized person. It’s inspiring, as it is cheesy. But that’s what makes her so adorable: Girls Next Door, they’re cited as being “real” and we believe it. Being a bad-ass one moment and cheeseball the other, makes her believable. This is why guys crush on her and girls want to be her.
But here’s where she becomes a bit paradoxical—Jenny Lewis never really was the Girl Next Door. She was on national television when she was 10. She appeared alongside Angelina Jolie in the film Foxfire. She dated Jake Gyllenhaal. And Jenny and her bandmate/ex-boyfriend Blake, a child actor himself, apparently met through Ben and Fred Savage. It’s a case of Kevin Arnold/Winnie Cooper syndrome come to life, where in reality child stars are not Girls Next Door in any neighborhood, except one: Hollywood. But Jenny Lewis still seems “real” and we believe it. And that, Indie-Rock America, is showbiz. Maybe ol’ Hef is on to something.