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

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:
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.

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