Better Than: Most reasons to schlep to Terminal 5.
“I wore my rainbow suit just for you,” Jenny Lewis joked to the sold-out crowd at Terminal 5 last night. But Lewis followers (and even a fair-weather fan or two) are shrewder than that: The rainbow pattern of said suit has become Lewis’s symbol for her The Voyager album cycle, appearing on everything from the album cover’s infamous jacket to Lewis’s guitar and stage set.
The whimsical, vintage imagery sums up where Lewis currently finds her music. The singer’s third album as a solo artist, The Voyager is Lewis’s coolest-sounding musically, influenced by artists of late-’70s California and imbued with Lewis’s unmistakable pop stylings.
Lyrically she’s as sharp and cynical as ever, a trait she mastered as the lead singer of the now-defunct Rilo Kiley. In particular, the biggest cheers of the night came from one standout line in the single “Just One of the Guys,” as Lewis candidly sang, “I’m just another lady without a baby.”
Other Voyager highlights included a trippier, guitar-drenched rendition of “Slippery Slopes” and the bright, hooky “Head Underwater,” as well as the sexually adventurous, character-driven “Late Bloomer,” which Lewis sang with a bit of vocal magic, despite a brief — and quickly recovered — missed lyric. “Aloha & The Three Johns,” she also noted, was inspired by a trip to Hawaii and a guy urinating into his own mouth. “Not a drop wasted,” she said of her muse.
The night’s more intimate moments came courtesy of songs off past solo efforts: Drum brushes ushered in the bare, extra-hushed vocals of “Melt Your Heart” (off 2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat, her first solo outing recorded with the Watson Twins), the cavernous Terminal 5 growing so silent you could hear a pin drop. The sultry groove of “Pretty Bird,” from 2008’s Acid Tongue, has grown into one of Lewis and her touring band’s most beautiful live songs.
Other Acid Tongue standout “The Next Messiah” and its three-part structure plays out expertly onstage. Featuring Lewis’s boyfriend, Johnathan Rice, the song was driven home by thumping bass and Lewis preaching to the converted from atop an amp. During the encore, the album’s centerpiece and title track was performed as a group sing-along. With only Lewis on guitar, it was a strong testament indeed to the power of simplicity.
Rilo Kiley fans were treated to the militaristic fuck-off “A Better Son/Daughter” and the nothing-short-of-perfect “Silver Lining.” “The Moneymaker” found Lewis in full-on strut/funk mode, and crowd participation was encouraged during the transcendent “With Arms Outstretched.”
For Lewis fans with her since her Rilo Kiley days, it’s easy, and wonderful, to see how she’s grown into a staggeringly consistent and seasoned songwriter and performer. She creates live sets around music that’s at its core pure, fun, and honest. Jenny Lewis has no tricks up her sleeve. What you see is what you get — magic rainbow suit aside.
Critical Bias: Rilo Kiley was signed to Saddle Creek, the label from my home state of Nebraska.
Overheard: “Do they do intermission? It’s been 10 years since I’ve been to a concert.”
Random Notebook Dump: A lot of this makes me want to do drugs, in a non-stoner way.
“One of the Guys”
“The Next Messiah”
“The New You”
“You Are What You Love”
“Melt Your Heart”
“Rise Up With Fists!!”
“Aloha & The Three Johns”
“Love U Forever”
“A Better Son/Daughter”
“With Arms Outstretched”
“She’s Not Me”