Sunday, August 30, 2015

Jenny Lewis concert review: Santa Ana, Calif.

Listening to Jenny Lewis music can bring out the inner punk rocker in some people.

Tuesday night at the Observatory, one gal snuck onstage to grab a hug, dove off and then landed with a thud. It surprised the singer. "No one has jumped at any of my shows before," she admitted later, slightly bemused. "These are sentimental melodies."

While a relaxed atmosphere does envelop Lewis' alt-country and pop material, the songs often sport a more serrated edge in concert thanks to longtime guitarist Mike Bloom (also part of The Elected with her former Rilo Kiley bandmate Blake Sennett). 

The first of two Santa Ana, Calif. shows served as a world tour finale in support of last year's excellent "The Voyager." Lewis' third solo album was chiefly produced by Ryan Adams, with Beck and her boyfriend/music collaborator Johnathan Rice overseeing a few tracks. Members of Maroon 5, Dawes, Sebadoh, First Aid Kit and Watson Twins were among the high profile studio contributors. Additionally, Lewis and Rice penned "Cold One," currently heard in the new Meryl Streep film, "Ricki and the Flash."

Before Lewis and her five-piece band appeared onstage, a female mariachi group (plus male trumpeter) did the mournful title track to "The Voyager." Once they left, the two-hour, 20-song concert started with a sleek "Head Underwater" as Lewis smiled broadly and clapped along. Confetti shot in the air and the singer said, "We’re going to land the ship." But not until the musicians soared awhile.

Sassy rocker "The Moneymaker," where Lewis strutted around with authority, was an early standout (four more Rilo Kiley tunes were peppered throughout the set). Changing into the pastel pantsuit that matched her album cover, Lewis teasingly sang "The Next Messiah" alongside the female keyboardist. Rice guested on guitar, handled a verse and everyone thrashed about.

Backed by just Megan McCormick on acoustic guitar, the ladies gathered round a bullet microphone for the subtle "With Arms Outstretched" from 2002.

Fans sang along loudly to it and another oldie, the energetic Pavement-esque "Portions for Foxes."

Then more confetti filled the air. "The New You," like a bulk of the latest album performed, was blissful until Bloom seared through it. Another highlight was the Eighties Fleetwood Mac vibe of "She's Not Me."

Sharing her experience attending one of the recent Grateful Dead reunion shows, where there was "so much joy," Lewis and company went into a groovalicious cover of that band's "Shakedown Street." Elsewhere, solid harmonies elevated a stark "Pretty Bird" and buoyant "Love You Forever" (huge inflatable were thrown into the crowd). The anthemic main set closer "A Better Son/Daughter" was uplifting.

Come encore time, Bloom handled pedal steel during the sprightly, relationship-minded "Aloha & the Three Johns" and Lewis tossed out copies of a new comic book based on it. Two new songs came across well. The acoustic folk of "Acid Tongue" provided a final spotlight of the band's seamless vocal blend.

A version of my review originally appeared at
Photos by Drew A. Kelley  

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