By: Kevin Rolfe
The moment I walked into The Commonwealth Room I could feel the energy swirling throughout the venue. The buzz of excitement and anticipation was nearly tangible. The venue was sold out, and the audience was ready for the extremely talented Jenny Lewis to take the stage. The photographers were given their final instructions and we were escorted to the pit in front of the stage. As I walked through the doors to the main room I as big a crowd as I’ve ever seen at The Commonwealth Room. Once into the pit, I enjoyed a brief but entertaining conversation with some of the other photographers and a couple of people resting on the railing in the front row. But then that moment we all wait for when the venue goes black to signal the start of the show. It’s one of the least spoken about moments in a concert, but the drama and excitement it provides creates one of my favorite moments in live music.
In a darkened venue we began to hear a familiar tune. It was Tommy Tune’s 80s gem “867-5309/’ Jenny” playing through the speakers as the band started to walk on stage. I looked to a photographer next to me and we both smiled and stated how perfect that was. Jenny later in the show joked about it suggesting it was silly. But I thought it was pretty clever.
It was impossible to miss Jenny Lewis when she hit the stage. Even in the dark, her sequin dress sparkled from head to toe. The spotlight revealed a bouffant hairdo. Lewis’ look appropriate for the Grand Ole Opry or on The Porter Wagner TV show. Her look made me think of something Tammy Wynette or Dolly Parton would have worn in the 60s and 70s. The audience loved her look. They went crazy as Jenny made her way to her upright piano.
Lewis began the show with the opening song from her brand new album On the Line “Heads Gonna Roll”. She stayed at the piano with her second number “Wasted Youth”. She seemed to be in a great mood, smiling at her band and to the crowd as she sang these great tracks. When all was said and done Lewis performed 9 of the 11 tracks off of On the Line. That’s a risky move in my opinion. Generally, people are more excited to hear the hits of the past than listen to new songs. It’s an unfortunate thing, but it is true. Unless of course your new album is really good and filled with songs people really want to hear. Happily, this was the case for Jenny Lewis. People were excited to hear so many of these new tracks. And I can’t say I blame her for wanting to sing the new songs. Her album was only released about six weeks ago.
Following “Wasted Youth”, Jenny walked to the front of the stage up to a heart-shaped riser. If anyone was having a hard time seeing her beautiful dress she assured they’d get a good look on this riser. She performed what was clearly a crowd favorite, “The Big Guns” a song she released with The Watson Twins. From there Lewis masterfully weaved her solo songs with songs she created while in Rilo Kelly and with the Watson Twins.
Lewis blends country music elements in what I would call indie music. I wouldn’t necessarily think those genres would mesh well. But Jenny Lewis has found the perfect blend. Her voice fits those styles really well too. Her voice was impressive. She sounds so good live! Utah can be a difficult place to sing. We’re at a high elevation and the climate is extremely dry. Lewis seemed unaffected by either of those things. She hit every note and didn’t seem to tire when she danced around.
Because this is the On the Line Tour, a few neon-lit telephone’s were placed throughout the stage. There were two placed on the piano and one on her heart-shaped riser. Lewis used these what looked like props a couple of times. The phone on the riser was actually a microphone. She sang the beginning of one song into it and used the phone to invite opener Karl Blau on stage for a song.
During the song, “Little White Dove” enormous balloons were released into the crowd. What was already a party atmosphere was elevated to another level. Balloons were flying around The Commonwealth Room and grown adults would turn into little kids when they got to hit one of these balloons in the air. I’m not even making fun. I was giddy when I had my turn. I hit that balloon as hard as I could hoping it would bounce off the mirror ball.
With all the excitement in that party atmosphere, it was impressive the way Jenny Lewis was able to rechannel the energy in that room. Just two songs later she performed a stripped down version of “With Arms Outstretched” another song she did in Rilo Kelly. She had the house lights turned off and asked the crowd to use the flashlights on their phones to light the room. What was once a venue filled with balloons and dancing was now a dimly lit club with arms lifting those phones as high as they could while singing along. It was one of my favorite moments of the evening.
Following “With Arms Outstretched” the stage was emptied until a consistent roar of the crowd brought everyone back for an encore. After Lewis performed “Dogwood” and “Party Clown”, she closed the show perfectly. As I mentioned, Lewis used her neon green lit stage phone to invite Karl Blau to the stage to help her with a song. That song was “Handle With Care” by the Traveling Wilburys. I was unaware that she had covered this song with The Watson Twins, so this came as a pleasant surprise. I love the Traveling Wilburys and that song and Lewis’ version totally did it justice.
Jenny Lewis finished the show with the beautiful “Acid Tounge”. Lewis’ band who seemed content to play from the shadows throughout the show made their way to the front of stage left and gathered around a microphone to form a choir and help sing the harmonies of this song. Jenny played her acoustic guitar and it was the most intimate moment of the show. We may as well have been in someone’s living room listening to Jenny sing to us. The crowd was in full voice singing every word and cheering loudly when they heard their favorite lyric from the song. I still can’t get over just how clear and beguiling Jenny’s voice was during this song. What an excellent song to end what a memorable show.
Isn’t it the worst when you see one of these reviews and think “Dammit! How did I not know about that show!” It sucks! Well, you’re in luck. Jenny Lewis will be returning to Utah in just a couple months! She’ll be returning to perform up at Deer Valley at the Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater on July 11. If you regret missing this intimate show at The Commonwealth Room, then you for sure don’t want to miss that show up in the mountains. Click here to get tickets!