In last week’s arts newsletter, I predicted that Jenny Lewis’s Wednesday night set at First Ave would “comfortably exceed your modest expectations.” Musically, that was about right. Even less expected, however, was an appearance by Lewis’s father Eddie Gordon (a Hastings resident), whose harmonica cameo marked the first time the two had ever shared a stage.
I was among the audience members who didn’t quite appreciate the significance of Gordon’s band opening the show; in fact, I mistook them for scheduled opener the Sadies and was disappointed. When they actually took the stage, the Sadies—best known for their work as Neko Case’s backing band—impressed. With precise, rapid-fire guitar licks, at the Sadies recall the glory days of instrumental rock, when bands like the Ventures led worship services at the Church of Reverb. It’s about as exciting as you can get without acknowledging that the Summer of Love ever happened.
Lewis herself then took the stage, basking in the spotlight as comfortably as always with a tight band including sideman/boyfriend Johnathan Rice (the New York Daily News has called the pair the alt-rock Brangelina). Her set, which included one two-song encore, consisted almost entirely of songs from her two albums Acid Tongue (2008) and Rabbit Fur Coat, a 2006 collaboration with the Watson Twins. The one song she plucked from the songbook of Rilo Kiley, the band in which she rose to fame as a performer and songwriter, was a zinger: “Silver Lining,” from the band’s 2007 masterpiece Under the Blacklight.
Video by MFR.
While the songs from Acid Tongue worked well and were warmly received by the sizable crowd, the show’s standouts were the several numbers from Rabbit Fur Coat, an album that’s likely to appear on many critics’ best-of-decade lists later this year. The sweet slide guitar line that opens “The Charging Sky” was met with a roar that suggests the song, among others on that beguiling disc, has worked its way well into her fans’ lives and ears.
The set’s emotional highlight was “Handle With Care,” a Traveling Wilburys (!) cover that appeared on Rabbit Fur Coat with support from indie-rock all-stars M. Ward, Conor Oberst, and Ben Gibbard. Their absence was more than made up for by the appearance of Gordon, who performed the harmonica solo played by Lefty Wlbury (Roy Orbison) on the 1988 original. Despite the fact that Gordon and Lewis have a sketchy history—he was largely absent during her childhood—the crowd was pleased to respond to a call by Rice to give Gordon a hand “for creating Jenny Lewis.”
Jay Gabler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.
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