Jenny Lewis + La Force @ L’Astral – 1st November 2019

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Jenny Lewis on stage at l’Astral

I’m pretty sure anyone’s first time in California is a memorable experience; mine certainly was.  It was April 2009.  My ever-dependable gig buddy from my native England was working just outside San Diego for a few months, and of course, I jumped at the chance to visit.  True to form, one of the first things we did was head out to a tiny show in nearby Solana Beach to catch Jenny Lewis, who had just started touring her Acid Tongue record.  It was a wonderfully intimate affair, crammed into this little tavern near the beach, and my buddy picked up the Acid Tongue CD after the show.  That CD played on repeat for the next week, providing the soundtrack as we cruised around places like San Diego, Los Angeles, Joshua Tree, culminating in a day trip to Coachella, where lo-and-behold, Jenny Lewis was playing again!  It was much less intimate, but no less memorable, hanging out under the stars in the warm California desert.  Twice in a week, and then I never saw her again… until tonight.  Needless to say, I’ve been excited for this show for a while.

La Force

Taking a break from her Broken Social Scene duties, Ariel Engle, better known as La Force, is tasked with warming up the crowd for tonight.  Her humble stage persona already endears her to the crowd as it is, so when she starts speaking French between songs as well, she quickly has l’Astral eating out of the palm of her hand.  Her music is moody and creative, making good use of a loop pedal, and by the time her 45 minutes are up, the huge applause shows that she probably picked up more than a few new listeners tonight.

If ever there was a perfect artist/stage entrance song combination, it’s the classic 867-5309 by Tommy Tutone sound-tracking a Jenny Lewis arrival.  She knows it too, throwing shapes in her glittering sequined dress as lines such as “Jenny Jenny who can I turn to / You give me something I can hold on to” blazes over the PA as she and her 5-piece band take their positions.  Seated at a piano in centre stage, her angelic note-perfect voice immediately shines through on Heads Gonna Roll, the opening track from her recent 4th full-length On The Line, and is followed by Wasted Youth, which sounds a lot more powerful live than its recorded counterpart.  Head Underwater takes things down a dancier funk path altogether, really getting the party started for this Friday night.

Jenny begins dipping into her past collaborations nice and early in the set.  First up is Happy, from her work with The Watson Twins, which sets a delicate Blues tone, with only a soft acoustic guitar accompanying Jenny’s vocals and ironically tortured expressions as she proclaims “I could be happy, happy / Oh, so happy, happy!”  The mood is cut only by the rapturous applause that follows the song’s conclusion. 

Jenny then goes bona fide frontwoman, starting with a reggae-infused version of Voyager on which she roams the stage unattached to any instruments whatsoever as her guitarist and bassist lay down perfect harmonies.  Do Si Do sees her climb atop a box in the middle of the stage with a flashing tambourine in hand; “this is a very important part of the show!” she declares in her defence!  Her guitarist has one too, providing tambourine harmonies throughout… there’s an expression I have definitely never written before, ‘tambourine harmonies’…

After another dance number in the form of She’s Not Me, Red Bull & Hennessy sees Jenny wield a hefty electric guitar, adding way more meat to the song, and especially so at the breakdown as she slashes at the strings and almost snarls the line “we had it all / right from the start / never going back in with your heart!”  The show truly changes sounds and directions with almost every song that comes along; things calm down with a bluesy Just One Of The Guys before a sassy Little White Dove sees a cluster of large balloons drop from the balcony onto the crowd, who bounce them around for the next few songs.  Born Secular, another visit to The Watson Twins era, return us to piano ballad territory once more.

As well-received as the songs from the records with The Watson Twins are, the Rilo Kiley moments are received even more enthusiastically.  After the crowd light up the room with their cell phone lights at Jenny’s request (minus me – I still have no power at home after today’s insane wind storms, and need all the battery power I can get…), all other stage lights go out to create a campfire vibe for the classic Arms Outstretched, with Jenny singing over just an electric guitar in conjunction with a huge crowd singalong.  Both Jenny and guitar go silent to let the crowd sing the outro, which sounds amazing.  Silver Lining, which follows, sounds equally magical.  New song On The Line then closes out the set in mellow fashion.

The encore begins with mellow piano songs Dogwood and Party Clown before we re-enter Rilo Kiley territory once more in the form of the wonderful I Never.  What is already a wonderful moment in the show is made even more wonderful by the text message I get from my wife telling me that the power just came back on at home – hurrah!  Jenny roams the stage again, singing into the faces of the front row. 

After joking about whether last night or tonight constitutes Halloween this year in Montreal (she clearly got herself informed on Montreal current affairs prior to the show!), Jenny dishes out candy to the crowd, and curiously, a Magnum condom, extending her best wishes to the recipient of that particular treat: “good luck with that, ma’am!” Rabbit Hole provides a jolly conclusion to the set, with a guy in a rabbit costume bringing out a piñata that Jenny punches open to liberate more candy that is subsequently flung into the crowd.  The guy in the rabbit costume then carries Jenny off stage to seemingly end the set, if the setlist on the stage and those from the rest of the tour are anything to go by…

But that’s not it.  Jenny soon re-emerges again, chatting with some of the girls at the front of the stage before bringing one girl onto the stage, for a bonus song that doesn’t feature on the regular setlist.  The song in question?  The title track from the Acid Tongue record that holds such a dear place in my heart, from that California trip of 10 years ago, and indeed, the only survivor from that record in the show tonight.  It’s probably the most spectacular moment of the set too, as Jenny’s 5-piece band leave their positions to congregate at the front of the stage to add perfect unplugged harmonies to Jenny’s delicate vocals.  It still sounds exactly like it did in that tiny club near the beach, and in the Indio desert under the stars.  My night is complete; suddenly 10 years feels like it was just yesterday.  It’s the perfect way to wrap up a truly magical evening; I hope it’s not another decade before I experience it again!

Set List

  • 1.       Heads Gonna Roll
  • 2.       Wasted Youth
  • 3.       Head Underwater
  • 4.       Happy (Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins cover)
  • 5.       The Voyager
  • 6.       Do Si Do
  • 7.       She’s Not Me
  • 8.       Red Bull & Hennessy
  • 9.       Just One of the Guys
  • 10.   Little White Dove
  • 11.   Born Secular (Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins cover)
  • 12.   With Arms Outstretched (Rilo Kiley song)
  • 13.   Silver Lining (Rilo Kiley song)
  • 14.   On the Line

Encore

  • 15.   Dogwood
  • 16.   Party Clown
  • 17.   I Never (Rilo Kiley song)
  • 18.   Rabbit Hole
  • 19.   Acid Tongue

Review – Simon Williams
Photos – Steve Gerrard

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