Jenny Lewis brings her sparkly songwriting to Ithaca

The former Rilo Kiley singer led a spirited, impressive, career-spanning solo show at the State Theatre of Ithaca on Nov. 8.

Inside the State Theatre of Ithaca Saturday night, it might as well have been 1978. Jenny Lewis, the former lead singer of Rilo Kiley who’s now fortifying an impressive solo career, wears her sonic influences proudly.

That’s not a slight, either. One look at the cover of her new solo LP, The Voyager, reveals the evidence for what makes this charismatic, confessional songwriter so winsome: her sense of self. Throughout The Voyager’s tour circuit, Lewis has unironically sported a rainbow-sparkle pantsuit too exuberant for Stevie Nicks (but perfect for Gram Parsons). The Ithaca show was no exception.

Lewis took the stage in full Laurel Canyon-meets-Studio 54 regalia, diving straight into energetic new album cuts “Head Underwater” and “Just One of the Guys.” The rich new material sprang to life, oscillating between Fleetwood Mac and pseudo-Eagles twang, with the help of a pulsating six-piece backing band, including her boyfriend, Johnathan Rice (with a perfectly Allmanesque hunch over his Gibson SG). The band even delved into disco, covering the Grateful Dead’s funky “Shakedown Street.” The best trick in Lewis’ set, though, was how she beautifully recalled her own past, not just that of her idols.

In a career-spanning show, Lewis dipped into tunes from her previous two solo records: 2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat, recorded with the Watson Twins; and 2008’s Acid Tongue. During the sprawling “The Next Messiah,” Lewis hopped on a platform, winking and pointing her microphone like a pop preacher. In fact, she spent half of the show guitarless, letting her band do the heavy lifting musically. This freed her arms to connect more directly to the crowd, which she did exceptionally well pacing the stage, shimmying and singing “The Moneymaker” and “Pretty Bird.”

Saturday night shows tend to be well received, but Lewis’s stop in Ithaca had the crowd roaring, especially at the older Rilo Kiley material. “With Arms Outstretched” and “A Better Son/Daughter” saw Lewis don a guitar to strum the stirring open chords and sing to the ceiling. Audience members sang along, and some even cried. Lewis cried, too, and the takeaway was obvious: These songs mean a lot to a lot of people for a lot of reasons. Lewis knows this, which is why she made The Voyager (with a little help from producers Ryan Adams and Beck) gleam like crystal champagne in a mansion on a big Hollywood hill. The stakes are simply too high now to disappoint.

Though Lewis’s songs can be dark with drug-addled and confused characters, the music nearly always exits triumphantly. The same can’t be said for openers Girlpool, a California duo with angsty notebook lyrics and shrill harmonies. Their music, while beautiful and striking, doesn’t work toward uplifting choruses or major-key resolution. It’s just one bass, one guitar and a lot of quietly dazzling emotional complexity — all wonderful things, if a bit subdued compared to Lewis’s glamor. But Girlpool, with their “Something in the Way”-via-First Aid Kit aesthetics, are a band to watch.

And so is this new incarnation of Lewis’s career. She’s never been more confident or more profound, and it’s exciting to she where she’ll go from here. In the meantime, The Voyager will keep us warm (and wanting more).

Photos by Love Lee.

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.