Concert Review: Rilo Kiley @ The Phoenix, Toronto 5/28/09

” But it’s a sin when success complains,
and your writers block-it don’t mean shit.
Just throw it against the wall and see what sticks.
Gotta write a hit
I think this is it.
It’s a hit…”

It’s A Hit – Rilo Kiley

Deja vu:  same venue, same band, same tour, and even the exact same vantage point (directly in front of the keyboards upon which Jenny Lewis was destined to play)…  Such was my second Rilo Kiley experience.  The crowd brought the same mix of hipster-chic college girls who were too busy dancing drunkenly to notice their faux intellectualism was fooling no one, genuine indie-loving intellectual artsy types, high school girly-girls dreaming of being as cool as Ms. Jenny Lewis, and the quietly fangirling folk (present!).

It also brought with it a new player:  the ‘assholes because we believe we’re anonymous and can get away with it’ guys, who broke the feel-good vibe of the show a few songs into the set by shouting out, “What do you do when your new album sucks?”  Oi.  Any Toronto local will tell you that out and out rude concert behaviour is less common here than in other places; hell, many artists will tell you Toronto is one of their favourite places to play for reasons of decent audience.  While Jenny’s jaw dropped in shock, Blake’s quiet seething gave way to responding, “At least we have an album!”  Jenny piped up, adding, “Let’s hear your album!”, to which there was much applause.

Alas, the bastards had half a point:  their latest endeavour Under The Blacklight does fall flat when placed alongside The Execution of All Things or More Adventurous, but it certainly doesn’t out and out suck.  However, the slant of the setlist towards the new material is my one complaint for the show, although the set was more varied this time around as compared to leg one of the UTB touring.  That said, the new material plays better live than the album versions, if only for the charisma and stage presence of the band.

But before reviewing the show, a few words about opener Thao Nguyen are necessary.  My first encounter with Thao’s music was the song Tallymarks, part of a mix I downloaded to accompany, of all things, a piece of fanfiction (the best fanfic out there, IMHO – if you’re remotely interested in Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Joshua Jackson, Katie Holmes or massive mocking of Tom Cruise and Scientology, help yourself to The Liberation of Katie Holmes HERE) as its soundtrack.  The song’s haunting quiet melody and Thao’s rich voice, coupled with her simple but poignant lyrical imagery (“Love is not why we leave/It is real live dreams and make believe people/You can’t build cathedrals out of finger steeples/And we drop drop tears like tallymarks/And it builds like snow, ’til it keeps us apart…”) have made it a desert island track.  Needless to say, part of the selling point of seeing this tour despite the similar set was Thao.  Thao, accompanied by her band The Get Down Stay Down did a fantastic job opening up the show, with a bluesy-rock set that conjured shades of Janis Joplin at points, much to my delight.  Not being as familiar with her work, I cannot recite the entire setlist, but two of the songs played that night (Beat (Health Life and Fire); Geography) can be streamed on Thao’s profile page on my new hangout,

And now, Rilo Kiley…  What can I say that I didn’t rave about in my previous review?  Their live show is tight, and Jenny Lewis runs the show, which makes me feel a little sad for Blake Sennett, who is truly overshadowed despite his own talents by the JennyLust of the fans.  I actually enjoyed the previous leg’s inclusion of solo songs by each of the founders, if only because it gave Blake reason and chance to step to centre stage and shine.  This tour, Blake has Dreamworld and Ripchord, which becomes strangely ironic as he quietly sings, “Nobody loves you”.  The show had an incredibly strange feel to it, almost as if it were a goodbye, which I have to admit I could see as feasible.  My one major theory concerning UTB’s failure to live up to Rilo Kiley standards is that it truly feels as if Blake and Jenny were holding their best material back for their respective solo projects.  I’d like to pretend the sun isn’t setting on Rilo Kiley’s time, but it may at least be that the band is destined to be placed in hibernation for a prolonged period.  In that light, I’m grateful I managed to catch this performance.

A few highlights:

Capturing Moods:  Kicking it old school!  It was nice to see the band reach far back into the archives and deliver a song that isn’t hyped to death from their older works.

Does He Love You?:  Strong on the last Toronto outing, and strong this night as well.  Jenny’s voice is so heartbreaking on this song, you want to reach to the speaker upon which she’d perched to sing and give her a big hug and a tissue.

A Better Son-Daughter:  This is my favourite RK song, without question, and was one of the few songs I was disappointed not to hear on the last leg.  It alone was worth the price of admission, and delivered with enthusiasm and gusto.

Picture of Success:  Another beloved favourite that didn’t make the set last time around, this song became near anthem in its meaning last winter as I plotted to find a way (and eventually made it) to California for my birthday, for reasons of personal soul-searching and adventure.  Listening to the song unfold on stage, Jenny’s melancholy voice enveloping the room, I again had my best shoes on and I was quite ready to go.

SETLIST:  Rilo Kiley @ The Phoenix, Toronto 5/28/08

Close Call
The Moneymaker
Capturing Moods
Breakin’ Up
Does He Love You?
The Absence of God
With Arms Outstretched
Hail To Whatever You Found In The Sunlight That Surrounds You
It’s A Hit
A Better Son-Daughter
Silver Lining
I Never

Picture of Success
Portions For Foxes > Spectacular Views

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