God complexities, secularism, love, sex, politics, and Elvis Costello — Jenny Lewis never ceases to explore new territories, new collaborations, new questions and new sounds with her music. She has remained steadfast and unapologetic ever since she came on to the music scene ten years ago with her band Rilo Kiley. On Jenny’s second solo album, Acid Tongue, she continues to dive deeper into a world of complex emotions, producing lyrics that inspire and creating sounds that are both unique and true to her style.
Being a struggling singer/songwriter in Los Angeles (a city that is crawling with my kind), there are times I come across a song that inspires me to keep at it and keep writing. The album’s title track is songwriting at its best. It’s so heartfelt, affecting and deeply personal, it made me think, “Damn, I wish I had written that myself.”
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Lewis kicked off her current tour starting with two dates in the city she calls home — Los Angeles. More specifically, Silver Lake. Both venues, Spaceland and The Echo, were filled to capacity. I was lucky enough to catch the Spaceland show. It was nice to see, despite all her success as indie rock’s reigning queen, that she hasn’t let it go to her head. Jenny hung out with the crowd while watching her opening acts. There aren’t too many musicians who would do this. She’s always been appreciative and very good to her fans. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her a few times, and every time, she’s been very gracious and kind. (And has been a consummate inspiration for my own song writing.)
Taking the stage at quarter to midnight, with her Rilo Kiley band mates watching from the audience, Jenny opened with the powerful “The Next Messiah.” Her view from the stage was no doubt clouded with pink heart-shaped, balloons (one tied to my belt loop) with “acid tongue” written on them. Eventually, she slowed it down with the brooding and haunting “Black Sand,” which is quite a departure from anything else she’s written.
Then she belted out “Carpetbaggers” along with her boyfriend and band mate, Jonathan Rice (Elvis Costello sings Rice’s part on the album). Shortly after, everyone left the stage, leaving Jenny and Jonathan alone to soulfully and beautifully harmonize on the cover song “Love Hurts.” Then, everyone was back on the stage for the band’s ultimate “jam” song, “Jack Killed Mom.” It’s enough to make you want to dance around, but knowing what the lyrics are, makes you feel guilty about the dancing.
For the show’s denouement, Jenny sat back down at the piano and began playing the melodious and soothing “Sing a Song For Them,” which is the most repetitive song on the album. And though most songs that repeat the chorus over and over tend to get on my nerves, the song won me over because of the beauty and simplicity of its repetition, which made it the perfect song to end on (before that obligatory encore, of course.) And then came “Fernando.” Quite different than the song Abba sang about 30 years ago. This Fernando will buy you a bottle of beer and help you drink and dance your worries away. It may sound like a fun, feelin’ good, drinking song, but also has undertones of the downside of fame, overexposure, religious ambiguity, and a broken heart. What better way to culminate everything this talented young woman loves to write about?
A few days before her show, MySpace offered a preview of the entire album. At first listen, the album had me worried. I suppose it’s because I expected it to be like her debut album Rabbit Fur Coat. That’s always a big mistake. As a music fan, it’s almost blasphemous to have any preconceived notions before listening to any new album by your favorite artist. When I listened to it a second time, I allowed myself to embrace the changes in her sound and was very happy with the result. There is beauty in change, yet it’s comforting to know that when it comes to Jenny Lewis, some things never change — like her hypnotic voice and her ever-relatable words. Whether they are rudimentary, enigmatic, or truly complex, her lyrics are consistently relevant… and fearless, as always.