Alternative singer-songwriter and ex-Rilo Kiley singer brings her enchanting mix of Americana-tinged indie folk to a jubilant Nottingham crowd.
Born in the intoxicating and hedonistic heartland of Las Vegas, it seemed almost fated that Jenny Lewis would become a performer, given that she shares a birthday with David Bowie and Elvis Presley. Yet despite a critically-acclaimed musical career, music wasn’t responsible for thrusting Lewis into the spotlight. A child prodigy, Lewis began acting from the age of two-and-a-half, had been bought a house by her agent by the age of five and then quit acting altogether at twenty, whilst enjoying the friendship of the likes of Leonardo Di Caprio when they were both teenagers. Not used to the stability of a normal childhood, Lewis’ whirlwind youth and early adulthood wasn’t helped with her mother’s relationship with substances, something which made a blossoming Jenny Lewis a remarkable raconteur.
Having embarked on a career in music, first with indie band Rilo Kiley and then as a solo artist, the now 43 year old singer-songwriter seems to be enjoying a rejuvenated golden period. Lewis’s twenty-year singer-songwriter career has traversed sonic highs and personal lows but 2019’s On The Line already looks to have booked its place on the Album of the Year list. Currently in the UK to promote her mesmerising fourth solo record, her eighth in total if you include the four she made with Rilo Kelley, Lewis’ shimmering blend of Americana, folk, indie and country has made her a live-wire performer.
What began as a grief album mourning the end of her twelve-year relationship with partner and Scottish-American songwriter Jonathan Rice, 2019’s On The Line later became a grief album to mourn her mother, and includes deftly weighted odes that attempt to bridge the years of turmoil that occurred in the past. Lewis’ songwriting style transgresses a plethora of influences, from Kate Bush and Fleetwood Mac to the more loose-based nature of the 60s blues scene, yet her delightful set at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms saw the experienced performer happily bounding from one genre to another with the loose shrug and hapless smile of a singer-songwriter comfortable with anything and everything.
Taking to the stage to Tommy Tutone cover 867-5309/Jenny, a relaxed serenity washed over the divergent crowd. From the offset it was clear that Lewis was well and truly in promotional mode for her latest record, launching into album heavyweights Heads Gonna Roll and Wasted Youth. Whilst the former, a swaying 60s ode to classic songwriting, was delivered in flawless fashion, the latter was projected with a jovial bounce that made Lewis seem like she was forty-three going on twenty-three.
Dressed head to toe in a long, sequinned dress, the radiant Lewis encountered a few technical hitches in regards to sound and at times was teetering on the edge of her vocal range, but her infectious presence and camaraderie with her audience left the whole room grinning sideways like a Cheshire Cat. Offering the audience the chance to ask a question to the band, she quickly refrained “Be careful what you wish for. Remember what Interpol said. There’s no I in threesome….I don’t know what the fuck they meant by that…” she laughs before launching back into her set.
Sandwiched between The Big Guns and Happy, two tracks from The Watson Twins’ collaborative record Rabbit Fur Coat, were Head Underwater and Slippery Slopes, two singles off of 2014’s The Voyager record – an album produced by the heavily-scrutinised singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, whose behaviour Lewis has previously described as ‘deeply troubling’ and a man she has since condemned strongly.
The enigmatic Do Si Do and blues-based rocker Red Bull & Hennessy were notable highlights from the set, whilst Little White Dove, Lewis’ proverbial olive branch to her mother, was performed with a victory strut and a charismatic pout. Before lancing into an encore, the audience was treated to a surprise with Rilo Kiley track With Arms Outstretched closing the main set. Returning to the stage for an encore of Dogwood and Party Clown, Lewis waved the crowd farewell with 2008 Acid Tongue track See Fernando, a rollicking message of strength and power looking ahead into the future.
Bouncing between her centre stage microphone, her lengthy piano further back, and a raised plinth overlooking her audience, Lewis was acutely aware of the power On The Line already possessed with her crowd. Interpolating eight tracks from her eighth studio record throughout the ninety-minute set, Lewis’ most recent catalogue of work was the loudest sung and, aside from her Rilo Kiley cover, the warmest received.
As a warm-up show ahead of her performance at this year’s Latitude Festival, Jenny Lewis sparked with the effervescent confidence of a giddy artist who’s just received her first record contract. A confident, self-assured head rests on wiser shoulders now, and Lewis is experienced enough to understand that timeless albums are a rarity for most artists, yet with On The Line, she has her most transparent record to date.