“You never knew why you felt so good
in the strangest of places
Like in waiting rooms
and long lines that made you late
and mall parking lots on holidays.”
Spectacular Views – Rilo Kiley
Seeing a band live for the first time is nervewracking for someone who, like me, considers music as essential as oxygen to his/her existence. You have certain expectations walking in the door – songs you ‘must’ hear, the image of the band or artist hitting every note perfectly, having the best seat in the house, and so on. You have high hopes, and as you make your way through the line, ticket clutched in hand, you can’t help but worry. What if they’re lousy live? What if this band I hold so dear turns out to be a flop? It becomes that much more intense when the artist in question is one of your most beloved. When artists of such import fall, it is that much more crushing to one’s musical soul.
Standing in line on the crowded sidewalks outside The Phoenix, I have to confess having such fears about seeing Rilo Kiley for the first time. While I managed to catch Jenny Lewis on her solo tour with The Watson Twins in 2006 (and was blown away by the woman), this was different. This was a different dynamic, a collection of songs more dear to me, and I began to fear I may have built the band up to impossible heights in my mind during the weeks leading up to the show.
At 10:45pm, Rilo Kiley took the stage (late, even for them). As the first notes of It’s A Hit began to reverberate in the small general admission club, I was immediately reassured. Every note, every nuance, every line from Jenny’s mouth was on, perfectly executed and delivered with a bright smile at the eager fans crowding the small stage that barely held all the members of the band comfortably. Pressed against the stage, I bore witness to one of the best concerts I have ever seen, lapping up every musical moment like a hungry dog with a very meaty bone.
If nothing else, you have to give Blake Sennett, Jenny Lewis et al. their dues; after years of writing and performing together, the band is tight and the singing duo have perfected a stage presence and chemistry that accents the playful wit of many of RK’s lyrics. Staple single Portions For Foxes becomes just that much more fun as Jenny and Blake trade looks and roam the stage. The powerful vocals on I Never reach new heights as Jenny throws her fist in the air, almost seeming to reach for a heavenly source of strength to belt out the end of the song. Blake trades saucy banter and grins with the audience prior to and during Ripchord that leave me giggling and gleeful. The music is fantastic, and the audience takes great joy in singing along with the ‘classics’ like With Arms Outstretched and Paint’s Peeling, but it is the entire package that helps the band transcend from great to legendary live.
While many fans have found RK’s latest album Under The Blacklight to be an inferior effort when placed alongside The Execution of All Things or even the mainstream-friendly More Adventurous, the new tracks are made for live performance. The album likely fails to achieve its goal because it is a groove-happy sort of album, one meant to dance to, not to simply listen to. The lyrics are less introspective, granted, but live, you simply want to shake your Moneymaker and let go of your cares for 90 minutes. Smoke Detector, Silver Lining and 15 particularly benefit from the live presentation.
If the show held any weaknesses, it was the choice and length of set. With such an extensive back catalogue, one would prefer a longer set, if only to make room for neglected gems like The Good That Won’t Come Out, Picture of Success, Glendora, or A Better Son-Daughter (my personal favourite RK song). The strong lean towards showcasing tracks from Under The Blacklight is understandable, nay predictable, but given the lukewarm reaction to the material, it may have made more sense to select older songs to blend in with them. The decision to bring a song from Blake and Jenny’s solo endeavours into the set was a treat, and the reworking of Rise Up With Fists! gave the song a different flavour, one that I almost prefer to the studio version.
I could continue to gush about the highlights of the show (Jenny’s stage presence, the intensity of Does He Love You?, the cowbell joy of Breaking Up), but frankly, I think it ought to suffice to say this: if you have the chance, do NOT miss this band. Run, don’t walk, to Ticketbastard and snap up seats. You will not be sorry.
1. It’s a Hit
2. Close Call
3. Portions for Foxes
4. Paint’s Peeling
5. Breaking Up
8. Wires and Waves
10. With Arms Outstretched
11. Silver Lining
12. I Never
13. Smoke Detector
15. Rise Up With Fists!
16. Greetings In Braille
17. Spectacular Views
18. Does He Love You?