Jenny Lewis w/the Watson Twins | 03.14.06

Lewis and her band looked appropriately attired to play the somewhat regal setting of the Park West, almost like a band of hipsters playing the 21st Century equivalent of the Grand Ole Opry.

 

Park West, Chicago

To some, Jenny Lewis is best known as the fiery-locked singer of indie-pop powerhouse Rilo Kiley. To others, however, she will always be the diminutive heartbreaker who stole Ben Seaver’s heart on a justifiably classic episode of the seminal ’80s family sitcom Growing Pains. Needless to say, she defied both descriptions (yes, even the latter) when she played to a packed house on a chilly Tuesday night on Chicago’s north side.

Decked out in all black, Lewis and her band (including the rather statuesque Watson Twins, Chandra and Leigh) looked appropriately attired to play the somewhat regal setting of the Park West, almost like a band of hipsters playing the 21st Century equivalent of the Grand Ole Opry. While some have described her solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat, as a strange hybrid of the best of Loretta Lynn and Dusty Springfield, it never seemed more obvious than when she captivated the entire audience with her heartbreakingly honey-dipped voice and poignant lyrical content.

Like her album, the entire evening had a very prairie lullaby feel to it, weaving together love songs, scathing social commentary, and stories of tragedy and woe to create a truly memorable performance, ranking right up there with some of country and pop’s finest.

While it’s difficult to list just a few standouts among the absolutely stellar song-by-song set, among them would be the undeniably touching “Melt Your Heat” (which achieves exactly what the title suggests), the contemplative and gospel-like “Rise Up With Fists,” and the absolutely stunning “Born Secular.”

But two of the night’s biggest highlights were songs that couldn’t be found on the album. One of them was the bluesy “Jack Killed Mom,” which featured some striking wailing from Lewis and ended with a bang in real honky-tonk fashion. The other was an unnamed track during the encore when she sang a cappella side-by-side with the Twins, who all but dwarfed the petite songstress. Accompanied by nothing but their own hand clapping and finger snapping, this was without a doubt a do-wop that would’ve done Ronnie Spector proud.

If this review seems a bit vague or un-descriptive, there’s a reason for that and, no, that reason isn’t laziness on the writer’s part nor is it because of a faulty memory. Sure, I could make mention of how the Twins (quite literally) played quarters on one song or how the right side of the audience seemed reluctant to participate during the chorus of “It Wasn’t Me” later on, but neither detail would help put into words just how moving a performance this was, executed by a singer whose voice is every bit as inspiring and thoughtful as the lyrics she puts to paper.

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