- by Mark Moody Rating: Release Date: Label:
Playing to a capacity crowd last Saturday night in Austin, Jenny Lewis’ pastel-hued stage set made you long for teenage days spent listening to records in your bedroom. Days when landline phones weren’t museum pieces and when memorizing a phone number like 867-5309 was a necessary step to staying connected.
I mean who wants to sing along to “Siri Siri Call Jenny’s Mobile” (even if it does fit the melody). Taking the stage to the strains of that Tommy Tutone numerical one hit wonder, Lewis and her band were prepped to take her fans on a colorful stroll through her garden of ever-growing hits.
Speaking of nostalgia, first up were Lewis’ collaborators from her 2005 solo debut The Watson Twins. Consisting of, you guessed it, twin sisters Leigh and Chandra who go out of their way not to separately identify themselves. Referring to themselves as “twin” and “other twin” they won the crowd over with a straightforward countrified set pulling primarily from last year’s self-released Duo album. And as country music loves a bit of duality, their song ‘Playing Hearts’ of course mixed love with playing cards. The 50s sounding ‘Cry Baby’ brought a Roy Orbison feel and had the sisters quibbling a bit and mocking the creativity of the Duo album title. Highlights of the short set included a harmonica fueled cover of The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ and of their own titles ‘Hustle and Shake’ felt the most honest - detailing their dealings in the music industry. Country is probably the only genre where cheating songs are fun, and their closer ‘Two Timin’’ fit that bill. Mid-set they recalled first singing ‘Big Guns’ when Lewis was their neighbor. It was a cool moment and you knew it wasn’t the last we were going to see of the twins that night.
Touring on the strength of the recently released and wistfully wonderful On The Line, Jenny Lewis and her six-piece band entered to a celebratory welcome. With a net full of pink and blue balloons overhead in the cavernous sound studio of Austin City Limits’ live home, you knew the party was ready to unfold. The set and Lewis’ own instruments were decorated with hearts and flowers while an elevated heart shaped mini-stage was pressed up against the footlights.
Lewis played the first two songs at piano and started with the stately album opener 'Heads Gonna Roll'. Her voice was in full command throughout the night and here sounded appropriately husky and offset by cello. She followed with the sweetest song ever written about addictions in ‘Wasted Youth’. Her voice was crystalline here and references to poppies and crumbling cookies hardly seemed threatening at all. Lewis left the piano for the remainder of the main set and took to her divaesque mini-stage, sparkling in a mermaid cut gold sequin dress. She evidenced a sound and visage of Loretta Lynn as she performed a tough heeled version of ‘Big Guns’ sans The Watson Twins.
The sinuous guitar line of Rilo Kiley staple ‘Silver Lining’ made for a great counterpoint to Lewis’ acoustic strum while getting a chance to show off her vocal range. Both ‘Happy’ and the later ‘Arms Outstretched’ benefitted from truly stripped down versions accompanied only by her lead guitarist, Dylan Day. As good as the earlier portion of the set had been, Lewis hit full stride on the beautiful ‘Hollywood Lawn’ (the rhyme of today and Beaujolais is a brilliant one). Though ‘Red Bull and Hennessy’ has taken a while to grow on me, here it was performed as a grooved-up star turn. While ‘One of The Guys’ was given more of a church organ gospel coloring. The heartbreaking and sweetly sung ‘On The Line’ was another stunner and as the main set closed out ‘Born Secular’ evidenced a soaring vocal that touched off the drop of balloons.
The four-song encore had the neon filled telephones coming to life. First off Lewis phoned some friends which resulted in The Watson Twins scurrying in from the merch table. Whether these conversations were prerecorded or not, they were fully charming. The Watsons sang with her on mainstay ‘Rise Up With Fists!’ and sounded glorious in the choruses. That was followed by the fieriest song of the night in the skiffle powered ‘Fernando’. And just when you thought things were over, the phone rings again and local hero Britt Daniel (though not sure everyone knew who he was) just happened to be hanging out on a Saturday night with not much to do. He strolled on stage (to at least my screams) and joined the chorus along with the Watsons and the rest of the band as Lewis sang solo with only her acoustic guitar on the aching ‘Acid Tongue’. I wasn’t sure I was going to get to hear that last one, but Lewis did absolutely nothing to disappoint and the ovation she earned at the end was wholly deserved. In a city known for its music, fans that get it, and a venue built for perfection Jenny's number was the one to have this night.
All photos: Angela Betancourt (check out her live music photo gallery of other artists)