Gleefully greeting the audience as the screen rose to reveal the First Avenue stage last Thursday, Rilo Kiley—a band rowing furiously down the alternative rock river towards a gushing waterfall of mainstream success—performed a polished but passionate set for the benefit of a rapt capacity crowd.
The band, which has released three albums since its 2001 debut Take-Offs and Landings, performed as a tight unit even as they traded instruments from song to song. Still, most eyes remained on frontwoman Jenny Lewis, the band’s principal vocalist and songwriter. Lewis basked very comfortably in the spotlight, waving her long arms in slow arcs and favoring the gently moshing masses with coy smiles. Near the show’s end she fell to the stage floor only to rise languidly, fingers first, for a keyboard solo. Knowing that Lewis enjoyed (if that’s the right word, and in this case it probably is) a career as a child actor, I imagine that she must have exasperated her schoolteachers as I did my junior high science teacher Mr. Tackes. (“Jason!” he groaned after I made a show of falling asleep during a boring lecture and toppling out of my chair. “Don’t be so dramatic!”)
Powering through several arena-ready songs from their superb 2007 release Under the Blacklight, which they’ve spent several months touring behind, the band seemed unsurprised to find themselves leading group singalongs. The audience’s ecstatic response to the anthem “Breakin’ Up”—with its celebratory refrain “ooh, it feels good to be free”—suggested that the song is on its way to becoming a staple of tearstained screw-that-selfish-bastard-who-needs-him-anyway iPod playlists. The band also performed “Does He Love You?” and “Portions for Foxes,” two remarkable songs from 2004’s More Adventurous that may be the twin summits of the Rilo Kiley oeuvre. The former, one of Lewis’s most intimate performances on record, did not benefit from the histrionic airing it received at First Ave; but an explosive performance of “Portions for Foxes” during the concert’s encore made that number stand out all the more.
The first opening act was the bland Nik Freitas. He was followed by the Spinto Band, an exuberant six-man ensemble that arrayed itself across the front of the stage. My girlfriend approvingly noted the Spinto Band’s democratic spirit: “Everyone gets to be the lead singer!”
Jay Gabler is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.
|Also in the Daily Planet, read Jay Gabler’s summer music preview.|