Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jenny and Johnny

I love Jenny Lewis in all her incarnations: Rilo Kiley, eponymous solo artist, and her latest role as one-half of Jenny and Johnny. Johnny is Johnathan Rice, Lewis' longtime boyfriend who has played on all of her solo work, and has now graduated to sharing title billing. Jenny and Johnny released their debut record (I'm Having Fun Now) on August 31, and have been touring in support of the album since then. I caught their show at the Black Cat in DC on September 16, and at the Ram's Head Tavern in Baltimore on October 25. Jenny seemed sensitive to the fact that she is the better known of the two, and that the majority of the crowd was there to see Jenny Lewis, with or without Mr. Rice. As such, she engaged in very little banter with the audience, and let Johnathan handle the mic most of the time. It was also clear that they wanted this to be a true Jenny and Johnny show, and therefore at the Black Cat played all but one of the songs off their debut, while slipping in one unrecorded song (Just One of the Guys), three songs from Jenny's solo albums (The Next Messiah, Carpetbaggers, and Acid Tongue), one Rice solo song (The End of the Affair), and closed with a cover of the Everly Brothers tune "Love Hurts", a hit for the group Nazareth in the late seventies. The Ram's Head show was very similar, subtracting "Love Hurts", and substituting the Rilo Kiley hit "Silver Lining" for "Acid Tongue". For Acid Tongue, Rice pulled several young ladies from the audience to provide backing vocals. Don't get me wrong though - I'm not implying that Lewis faded into the background. She is an engaging performer whom I have now seen in concert 4 times. And everytime I simply cannot take my eyes off her onstage.


An Audience Participation of "Acid Tongue". Black Cat, 9/16/10

Crappy Cell Phone Pic - Jenny Lewis at the Black Cat. 9/16/10


One of the more interesting songs on I'm Having Fun Now is "My Pet Snakes", a song that Rice said was about friendship, but looking just below the surface it seems to be a song from Lewis to Rilo Kiley bandmate (and co-founder) Blake Sennett. If it is indeed about Sennett, it does not bode well for a Rilo Kiley record anytime soon. The song starts with Jenny singing:

Oh I don't believe in double vision
And I don't think that two heads are better than one


Possibly a reference to a struggle for control of the band?
And continues later:

And if you don't believe in destiny
Then take what you are given
You and I got caught between magic and business

Johnny
We walked in on you while you were polishing your knives
(Jenny: While your eyes were turning green)
Sleeping in a twin bed with a serpent by your side
(Are you trying to compete with me)
You talk a lot of shit but you never start a fight
(Fantasize about killing me)
God it makes me queasy when you smile
(Through your jealousy)

This is a key passage that provides evidence that the song is about Sennett. In addition to the themes of competition and jealousy that may have been present as the media and public's focus within the band increasingly centered on Lewis, Sennet was once quoted in an interview saying that he had a dream about killing Lewis.

In the next verse, Jenny sings:
And if you don't believe in chemistry
Then what were we doing?
You and I had everything
From rebirth to ruin

With Johnny chiming in:
Everytime you come around I have to run and hide
I get claustrophobic even when I am outside
I thought that we were brothers
Man I thought that we were tight
Sucking out the venom of your bite

But maybe, Jenny indicates, the door is not totally closed:
And I don't believe that paradise is lost
I say this with my fingers crossed

And if you don't believe in prophecy
Decide when it's finished
You and I tried everything
From heroin to Guinness

And if the song is about Sennett, the next move appears to be his:
Johnny:
2009 it was a bastard of a year
I cannot get stoned no more
I only get the fear
We could have it out or we could have another beer
All the best of luck with your career.

I certainly would love to see a Rilo Kiley show. But I know I will go see Jenny in whatever her next incarnation. She deserves to be better known, and she and Rice sound great and perform well together. Pick up the record, see them in concert, but do SOMETHING to introduce yourself to the music of Jenny Lewis.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ingrid



Last night I saw singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson at the 9:30 Club in D.C. I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase the "Ingrid's Top Ten" package, which allows 10 fans at each tour stop to attend the soundcheck and to have a "Meet and Greet" with Ingrid. The day before the show I received an e-mail from Ingrid's management that informed me that in order to attend soundcheck, I needed to be at the 9:30 Club no later than 4:00 pm. No small feat since I woke up the morning of the show in Duluth, MN. Luckily all my flights were on time and I made it home with plenty of time to spare.

At the appointed time, me and my fellow meet-n-greeters (eight 20-something women, which prompted Ingrid to note "One of these things is not like the others") were ushered into the club, where a spread of pizza, salad, deserts, and non-alcoholic beverages had been laid out for us. We were given laminated "Ingrid's Top Ten" credentials, a poster, and a set list for the evening's show, all of which were later autographed by Ingrid. Sound check was interesting to see - though a more tedious process than I imagined - the first 30 minutes were spent soley on setting the correct drum levels. During this part of the check Ingrid posed for pics with us. After sound check we had to leave the club until the official doors opening time, but we were put at the front of the line for re-admittance.


Ingrid with guitarist Bess Rogers

The Irish duo "Guggenheim Grotto" opened the evening with a set that was well-received by the sold out crowd. However the energy was cranked way up when Ingrid and her band, clad in floor-length dark robes, entered to Led Zepplin's "Immigrant Song". Casting aside the robes, the band launched directly into "Soldier", off her 2009 album, Everybody. From there Michaelson cruised through a 17 song, 90 minute set that was full of her trademark stories and self-deprecating wit. Highlights included a stunning instrument-free cover of REM's "Night Swimming", which Ingrid performed alone on stage, after first using a looping pedal to set a vocal melody track which she then sang over. For most of the audience every song was a highlight, as evidenced by the enthusiastic sing-alongs. The ground she covered was familiar, and included fan-favorites "Breakable", "Everybody", "You and I", "The Chain". and "Maybe". As when I saw her in July at the Denver stop on the Lilith Fair tour, she closed with a tongue-in-cheek cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic", and performed "Be Okay" and a revved up punk version of "The Way I Am" as encores.


Ingrid Michaelson at 9:30 Club, 10/14/10


Ingrid and her band (l-r, Chris Kuffner, Elliot Jacobson, ? , Bess Rogers, Allie Moss)