Saturday, March 04, 2006

Re-living the best of high school

Moving to Los Angeles has improved my life in myriad ways: amazing job, new friends, more arthouse movies and MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC--live, cutting edge and non-mainstream. In Los Angeles all this music is right here. Far and away my favorite musical discovery since moving to the City of Angels is my new adopted hometown's own Rilo Kiley.

This is the band that has turned me into a junior high/high school student again. I devour the songs, dissect lots of lyrics, read most any article i can find (within reason, i am 30 after all now), scrounge for bootlegs and downloads, MUST see live. This is how I treated music 15 years ago, and I'm doing it again with Rilo Kiley and the band's lead singer Jenny Lewis, a red-headed dark angel sprite. I don't think that I could ever give bigger praise to a band than to say they've rekindled the best parts of high school in me. (btw, one of my top four fave shows ever was Rilo Kiley last summer at the Wiltern.) There's a timelessness to Jenny's lyrics and the band's melodies that permanently capture the torrents of high school and the discoveries of adolescence in their songs, even when you're old like me and them, too. It's more the emotional quality of being at first points in your life and the way you approach first points throughout you life.

Well Wednesday night I trekked out to Pomona (about 40 miles east of Los Angeles at the eastern edges of Los Angeles County and the butt of many crystal methlab jokes) to catch the opening date on Jenny's first solo tour. She had played a couple mini-shows, but this was the first night of the tour so I was pretty psyched.

The opening band was Whispertown 2000 (formerly Vagtown 2000, which Jenny joked about during her set and then said she shouldn't have revealed the band's former name b/c a band member's mom was in the audience). The set started shakily as the lead singer noted that she had a sore throat before starting and did about 5 shots of Chloraseptic type spray (yikes!). I've had it, it was like cough medicine in taste, but not in effectiveness.

This is a band that I'd recommend watching. A lot of potential. Cool lyrically, as much as one can tell hearing a song for the first time at a live show, fun audience banter, decent musicianship. They did have one problem though, not the best singers. And yes, I'm acknowledging the ailing lead singer. But the main backup/harmonizer was sadly just not that great. They daringly (foolishly?) performed an a capella song like fourth and fifth and that wasn't such a great idea. I honestly wanted to cover my ears as the vocal pitches fought it out. Double Yikes! Nevertheless, though, when that song was finished as with all the others, I clapped enthusiastically. I sure as hell couldn't do what they're doing, especially for the small amounts they're making.

But oddly, this crowd was dick, at least my section. As one of the oldest people at the show, I hung out at the back fringes, b/c dammit I don't do the flesh press anymore upfront. My section of the crowd couldn't even muster up fucking golf claps. Hello, this is a fucking rock show? And there was mad talking. Like if you and a friend were having a conversation in an airport terminal volume style talking. Even though the girl who happened to be standing next to me and I gave the head turn, dirty-look stare the talking continued. No surprise given the dirtiness of the look returned to us. What the fuck, right? Well, despite the lukewarm crowd response, overall, Whispertown 2000 was pretty good. I want to get the band's record when it comes out (even though I'll probably record it prior to that just to have).

Next up was Michael Runion. He was doing the lone guy on the stage with his acoustic guitar thing. He sang (very well, btw) sad songs with introspective lyrics, which were really enhanced by the still talking crowd (now buttressed by ringing cell phones) and what he had the balls to point out, the two people directly in front of him laughing hysterically during his song about disasters and stuff. Again, barely even golf claps from the back end even though he was really solid. I probably won't buy his stuff, but thumbs up. And like with Whispertown, he was clearly kinda excited about performing, which for me as an audience member always adds to my enjoyment. I mean, music is a creative art and the language of emotional communication, so sharing someone else's rock and jazz vibe can't help but make a show better, RIGHT?

Well, after Mr. Runion has finished, Jenny is up next.

The band takes the stage but still no sign of Jenny Lewis or the Watson Twins, but soon thereafter we all heard the most beautiful disembodied voices harmonizing the words "Run ... Devil, run ... devil run ... devil run ... Run ... devil run ..." and so on and then the three of them glide onto the stage until their front and center. Quickly they break right into The Big Guns, just like on her album Rabbit Fur Coat. It's awesome! The harmonies are just as tight as on the CD (unfortunately for Whispertown these harmonies make their vocal imperfections stand out more to me), which is saying something! I mean it's gorgeous. Even the fuckfaced audience members from before are appreciative. Another cool thing, not much audience singing along, actually none, which is unusual for a band like Rilo Kiley, which has extremely passionate fans.

Well, she ended up playing everything from the new album, except for the cover of the Traveling Wilburys "Handle With Care." Stand outs included "Rabbit Fur Coat," "The Charging Sky," "Rise Up With Fists" and two new songs ... Jack Killed Mom and an untitled song, that she has asked audience members to name. One guy in England called out "Tom," b/c that's his name.

"Rabbit Fur Coat," which was just her and an acoustic guitar was sublimely beautiful. The song, which she dedicated to a four-year-old friend (daughter of a friend, duh. although with jenny you genuinely knew that she's the type of soul that can be friends with a four-year-old), is about love, class differences and family had in my mind been a standout sad song. But hearing it live it practically broke my heart, of course compouding that with the sadness of "Melt Your Heart" was plain unfair, Jenny. When she sang of the eponymous "rabbit fur coat" you could practially hear a pin drop as the audience hung not just on the words but the emotion.

"Rise Up With Fists," like "Run Devil Run," featured the stellar harmonies of the really tall Watson Twins. But the biggest surprise was "Jack Killed Mom." A really funny song in a typical alt-country sound that exploded into a gospelish, countrified outdoor revivalist jam--organ, guitar, drums, bass, harmonies, beauty!

Also really cool about the show, I never once wished that Rilo Kiley would take the stage and join her. She really stood out on her own, though of course no one wants Kiley to disappear. Jenny's clearly got stage presence as the audience bent to listen to everything she said and bitched when the concessionaires in back talked and laughed during the encore. And even though i was probably 140 feet away at the back she really did the cliched singer thing and made everyone feel like she was singing at them.

The other thing I felt at this show, that is different from a lot of shows i've been to, is that audience reallly wanted this show to be amazing. First, RK has super devoted fans, but also, this is i think the one good thing about seeing a show outside of L.A., specifically not at the Troubadour (which i love). There's always a bit of a too-cool-for-school vibe at the Troubadour, but definitely not at the Glass House.

So I guess that's it for the show review. A review of Pomona and the Glass House coming tomorrow.


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