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By Sara Smithson
“No one calls me Jennifer, man.”
It was a candid response from Jenny Lewis when a fan repeatedly shouted out, “I love you, Jennifer!” after the first few songs on Friday night. Although an odd proclamation considering Lewis has always been a “Jenny” throughout her music (and acting) career, no one could blame the guy’s sentiments.
The singer-songwriter, who formerly fronted Rilo Kiley with fellow child actor-turned-musician Blake Sennett, had pulled out all “the big guns” to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of her solo debut “Rabbit Fur Coat” on Conor Oberst’s label Team Love in 2006. (Pun intended in honor of track No. 2 on the album.) Alongside the Watson Twins’ charming choreography and flawless harmonies, Lewis’ straightforward essence — the very quality that quickly established her as a riveting solo artist — was the star of the night. That left no room for proper labels or fancy facades.
||| Photos by Chad Elder
Despite this being the second of three shows commemorating “Rabbit Fur Coat” at the Cathedral Sanctuary at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Lewis’ elated fans acted as if Friday night was the only night. Outside in the church lobby, there were framed promo photos taken by Autumn De Wilde, specially reissued vinyl, T-shirts and even onesies for babies. Inside and in front of the pews, renowned musician M. Ward (who provides one of the guest vocals on Lewis’ cover of “Handle With Care”) was warming up the crowd with his lush vocals and bluesy guitar licks. The anticipation in the air had Lewis’ loyal fans in a tizzy; it was no doubt going to be an exceptional night.
Once the lights dimmed, the magic started. Surprising fans by entering the room through the back doors, Lewis and the Watson Twins slowly walked down one of the aisles with candles in hand while singing opening number “Run Devil Run.” The processional seriousness didn’t last for too long though. With just enough time to notice that Lewis’ dress was just a few darker shades than her red hair and that the Twins’ blue sparkly dresses delicately shimmered underneath the stage lights, the whole band were quick to go right into “The Big Guns.”
Lewis’ beloved lyrics about childhood (“Rabbit Fur Coat”), love (“Melt Your Heart”) and religion (“The Charging Sky”) were meticulous in word choice as they were strong in melody. Some lyrics rang out in irony more than others considering the show was held in such a holy venue, but these songs were her truth and you tell the truth at church, right?
The first of two costume changes occurred after “You Are What You Love.” Lewis’ and the Watson Twins’ second round of wardrobe consisted of black cowgirl outfits (with Lewis’ including a red floral design and some fun fringe). The third round had the twins in silver lamé dresses and Lewis in a matching silver suit. Costumes were just one of fun highlights of the show. Upon the band’s return to the stage, a rogue fan also made an appearance. Security chasing the inebriated peace sign-making woman through the pews yielded a good laugh form both those on and off stage.
On the sweeter side, there were also some sentimental notes exchanged on stage from the night’s leading lady. “I just want to take a moment to thank the Watson twins … for backing me up, being my sisters and believing in these songs from the jump […] We met many years ago when they bent down to tie their shoes … and there I was!”
The performance of “Rabbit Fur Coat” ended the same way it started. With the singing trio keeping rhythm via wooden claves and the crowd assisting with the hand claps, the fading reprise of “Happy” ended with cheers. But the show didn’t stop there. It only meant it was time for intermission (as the drummer so cheerfully notified with a sign).
Lewis indulged her fans during the second-half with rollicking songs like “Head Underwater,” Rilo Kiley’s “Silver Lining,” “Just One of the Guys” and “See Fernando.” Indulgence was acknowledged on both sides, Lewis revealed. After explaining her recent Phish concert experience, she loudly reenacted her pondering: “Maybe we could pull off two sets.”
Lewis and company accomplished more than pulling it off. The last quarter of the night consisted of an a cappella cover of the Shirelles’ “I Met Him On a Sunday,” “The Voyager,” M. Ward joining Lewis in the spotlight for a lilting rendition of “Pretty Bird,” an unveiling of a new ’80s-tinted song titled “Red Bull and Hennessy,” a rare performance of Rilo Kiley’s “I Never” and “She’s Not Me” as the finale.
“Pretty good for a Jewish girl from the Valley right?” Lewis asked earlier in the evening. It was pretty good indeed — from beginning to end.