Saturday, 18 October 2008

A rootin' tootin' barnstormer of a show from Jenny Lewis and co

The talented and beautiful indie queen Jenny Lewis has long held me rapt with the beautiful poetry of her songwriting. The depth and richness of the characters in her songs is quite something and I have tuned in to hear the travails of these individuals right back from Man Me and Jim in her Rilo Kiley days all the way through to the equally detailed portraits in Rabbit Fur Coat, her solo debut.

Here in Camden Lewis ditches the enigmatic but gimmicky Watson Twins who propped up Rabbit Fur Coat and trades them in for a band who could've walked straight off the set of Brokeback Mountain. It is with this talented and cohesive group of musicians that she regales we urban Londoners with the atmospheric folk tales of her new album, Acid Tongue.

Clad in a matador-style jacket and wide brimmed hat, Lewis initially takes to the piano to open with the first of many tracks from this record, Jack Killed Mom. Throughout the show she pretty much steers clear of soul and gospel tracks from Rabbit Fur Coat, bar renditions of You Are What You Love and Rise Up With Fists.

Instead we get the far more upbeat alt-country songs of Acid Tongue, such as The Next Messiah and Bad Man's World, ramped up to hoedown. Overall the cracking setlist strikes good balance between these fast-paced songs and Lewis' more melancholy ballads.

Drummer Barbara Gruska is quite a sight to behold, eyes popping she thrashes the living daylights out of her kit, gurning demonstratively all the while.

A particular highlight of the show is the song Acid Tongue, during which Lewis takes centre stage with just her guitar while her band gather in a Bohemian Rhapsody-esque configuration under a set of spotlights to provide the gospel harmonies.

Quite unexpectedly, the Koko soundsystem allows every nuance of Lewis' expressive voice to come through clear as a bell. Simultaneously tender and cruel, her refrains evoke ambiguous emotions and her lovesongs come barbed, case in point being Black Sand, "Who’s going to love you buried underground?".

Throughout the show the charismatic Lewis has the audience wrapped around her finger - so much so that the enraptured crowd are quick to cheer at any quip that passes her lips. It is officially impossible not to be charmed by her.

In the encore, guitarist and boyfriend Jonathan Rice joins her for a heartbreaking stripped-down duet of Roy Orbison's Love Hurts, which is followed by an equally poignant version of Godspeed, one of my favorite tracks from Acid Tongue. Lewis looks almost vulnerable as she sings at the piano of "When I was in bad shape", and shoots the perilously high notes of the chorus out the side of her mouth like they've been squeezed all the way from the depths of her soul.

The show comes to an absolutely thundering finish as the band go all out with the driving See Fernando, Lewis clambering on top of her piano no doubt to flag down the passing locomotive evoked by this song.

Quite frankly anyone would need to have a heart of stone not to love Jenny Lewis after this show, as melt our hearts she certainly did.

Photos by Lorne Thomson on Flickr

No comments: