Jennymania was in full effect throughout as she and her impeccable band wove their way through an infectious 20-song set.
Riviera Theater, Chicago, IL
Emerging to the fitting tune of “867-5309/Jenny,” like a wrestler entering the arena to her own theme song, Jenny Lewis took the stage Saturday night to a crowd of fans as adoring as any contemporary songwriter has. Jennymania was in full effect throughout as she and her impeccable band wove their way through an infectious 20-song set.
Not unlike a Father John Misty show (though without reaching so high a degree of self-conscious artifice), the show felt tight, even choreographed, but not without the opportunity for spontaneity and unpredictability. As frontperson, Lewis herself rotated through various positions—seated at a piano, standing before the mic (with or without a guitar) and elevated on a pedestal, to the delight of the shorter audience members. Her vocals rang true throughout the show, and were powerfully complemented by her bass player’s back-up singing, which was especially effective when it came to his soaring upper register.
The set leaned heavily on her excellent new album, On the Line, which features songs that dig deep into Lewis’s personal history—her mother’s struggles with substance abuse on the deceptively bouncy “Wasted Youth,” growing up in a decadent context in “Hollywood Lawn” and bad behavior (whether hers or someone else’s) recalled with a fair share of whimsy on “Party Clown.” Indeed, several of Lewis’s latest tunes double down on an uncanny ability to plumb the often painful depths of her memories and experiences through the simple pleasures offered by ‘70s-inspired pop stylings. The experience is nothing if not cathartic—though the subtler, clever lyrics sometimes slip by almost unnoticed in a live context, the exuberance in Lewis’s performance provides much redemptive uplift to even the most fraught source material; “Head Underwater,” the Fleetwood Mac-like cut from 2014’s The Voyager, is a case in point.
Other stand-outs from the show included the title track from that 2014 album, with its memorable refrain “The voyager’s in every boy and girl/ If you wanna get to heaven, get out of this world”; and the slow-burning “Born Secular” from 2006’s collaboration with the Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat, a kind of atheist (or at least agnostic) prayer and one of her simplest and most affecting set of lyrics. And it wouldn’t be a Jenny Lewis show if there weren’t at least a few throwbacks to the Rilo Kiley days; in this case, “Silver Lining” and “With Arms Outstretched,” the latter of which prompted a moving a cappella crowd sing-along. The audience also helped out on closer, “Acid Tongue,” which left few eyes dry by the end.
One hates to spoil a surprise for future crowds, but it is hard not to mention that, at one point, the audience was treated with large balloons falling out of nowhere. The songs kept going as concertgoers lightheartedly batted the balloons around, and somehow it felt not like a distraction but like the most natural, childlike thing to do while listening to music.
That lack of self-consciousness is part of what makes a Jenny Lewis show, and on this evening it imparted a carefree sense of joy, made to feel at home in its own city by a redheaded voyager in a glittery dress, visiting for just an evening before hitting the road again.