Rare is the high quality triple bill, where it’s worth arriving early and staying late just to see every single second of music. Most of the time it’s easy to glance at the one or two opening acts, not recognize the names, and decide they’re worth skipping so you don’t have to sit through a bunch of stuff you don’t know or care about. Okay, that might be overreaching just a little bit. There are plenty of adventurous music fans who understand that many of today’s openers are tomorrow’s headliners and have a desire to discover new music through live performance. If you’re one of those people, thank you for giving a damn.
Tag: jenny lewis
This Top 50 Songs list is not organized in any other way than by perceived order of excellence, so when you have a look at the set of 10 below, you may be surprised at how thematically related almost all of them are to one another. It was a total fluke things worked out like that, and in fact I didn’t even notice myself until writing up this introduction. The overarching theme is love, whether you’re falling into it, out of it, or somewhere in between, which is a subject matter as old as music itself. I just looked it up, and apparently about 60% of all songs written today are about love, so I guess the similarities aren’t all that shocking after all. Anyways, let’s get right into it, shall we? This freight train keeps rolling on with #40-31 of the Top 50 Songs of 2014! Oh, and in case you missed it, here’s #50-41.
After the first day of Lollapalooza, I was in pretty rough shape. Not following my own advice, I didn’t sit down for about 12 hours straight, and that’s definitely not a pleasant experience for the human body. So I made it a point on Saturday to be smarter and look out for my own well being a little bit more. After all, I needed to power through the full three days. And so the chronicle continues, with a recap of all the music that I saw on Saturday:
Following Friday’s lengthy fiasco that took about 45 minutes to get into the gates due to heavy security, Saturday was light by comparison. This time it only took 15 minutes, either because I went to a different gate or because security wasn’t being as thorough. Either way, it was a benefit, and one that allowed me to see the final 10 minutes of Benjamin Booker‘s set. And oh what a final 10 minutes they were. Having never seen Booker before and only being familiar with a couple of his songs (his debut album comes out in about two weeks), I was immediately struck by his passion. He positively attacked the final three songs of his set, singing his heart out with that sandpaper voice of his, and playing guitar riffs like his life depended on it. Rarely do I witness a live show where I repeat the word “Wow” over and over again just completely impressed by everything happening on stage, but this was one of those times. At the very end of his set, Booker removed his guitar and proceeded to smash it on stage, Pete Townshend style. I’m a total sucker for moves like that, which in turn immediately made me want to declare the set one of the festival’s very best. For all I know the first 20 minutes of his set could have been a total trainwreck, but somehow I sincerely doubt they were. At the very least, Booker has quickly become someone to watch very closely.
From one guitar virtuoso to three, following up Benjamin Booker’s set I walked to the nearby Palladia Stage for the start of Parquet Courts‘ set. I saw them live for the first time last summer, and went in with such low expectations that I wound up being completely shocked by their wild attack dog style of performing. They’re pretty unassuming guys who you might think are slackers with sloppy playing styles, but the delightful surprise is that they’re none of those things. When they get going on high energy numbers like “Borrowed Time,” not only are they pushing forward like there’s something to prove, but know all the right ways to add frills like excessive distortion to push things beyond what you might hear on record. The set list was ordered a bit like a rollercoaster or a wave, building in speed and vigor until a peak is reached, then plateauing out for some slower cuts before racing towards the finish again on the downslope. The band does it all very well, though the quicker numbers that turn the crowd into a frenzied mosh pit can feel particularly special.
Kate Nash has become an increasingly reliable live act over the last few years, thanks in no small part to her embrace of louder and more visceral rock sounds. Nobody is going to confuse her with a hardcore punk or heavier alt-rock artist, though she does seem to be taking notes from the riot grrrl movement and innovative bands like Bikini Kill or The Runaways. She may have had multi-colored balloons all over the stage and she and her band may have worn dresses, but they made it very clear that rock and roll was priority number one. Along the way, Nash screamed, wailed, shredded and ran around the edges of the stage barricades giving the fans a more up-close and personal thrill. She brought a bunch more fans up on stage to dance and have fun for a few songs as well. And towards the end, she encouraged all the females in the audience to pick an instrument and start playing, because the music industry needs more women. If those women turn out anything like Nash, I completely agree.
I wasn’t particularly psyched about seeing the John Butler Trio perform, but I do enjoy a handful of their songs and decided it might be enjoyable if I were to sit down somewhere and relax while listening to their set. That turned out to be a wise decision, as my legs needed rest and my body needed shade. While I did stand and watch a couple of songs, the band wasn’t really doing much on stage so sitting down and listening didn’t change much. Ultimately what I heard and partly saw was a halfway decent, if unremarkable set. They performed the songs almost exactly as they were on record, and sounded pretty good doing so. I only wound up sticking around for about half of their set, as I was soon being beckoned by friends to join them on the other side of the park.
On the other side of the park, Fitz & the Tantrums were performing on the big stage. They’ve become a much bigger, more popular band over the last couple of years thanks to their most recent record, which has spawned at least two hit singles so far. The band treated their set like a gigantic party, keeping the energy very high and encouraging the crowd to participate by clapping or singing along to various parts. It seemed like a show I’d seen before, done by better bands who didn’t seem like they were trying as hard. Shortly after their set, I tweeted that Fitz & the Tantrums are the Dave Matthews Band of funk and soul these days. It’s a statement I stand by, as they had a huge crowd of devoted fans, but very little of the band’s performance could be described as much more than hollow platitudes. A friend of mine would tell me later that day it was her favorite set, and I totally understand why some people might feel that way. In many respects they’ve had the proverbial wool pulled over their eyes (and ears).
Manchester Orchestra is a band that I was passionate about for a hot minute around seven years ago, and haven’t thought about much since. They’ve continued releasing a steady stream of music, and have even performed at Lollapalooza a few times, though I’ve only seen them live once before at a non-festival show back in 2007. As I recall, they put on a pretty decent show back then. The Manchester Orchestra of 2014 still puts on a pretty good, possibly even great show. In a world where the genre of alternative rock has shifted in meaning a bit, they remain one of the true holdouts by still unleashing pummeling guitar work and vocals that require a good scream every now and then. Sure, there are other bands doing the same thing, but very few of them get late afternoon slots at a massive music festival like this one. I suppose what helps separate this band from the pack is their passion and precision. They appear to love what they do, and it shows. Their crowd wasn’t very large – probably one of the smaller ones of the day – but those that stuck around hopefully walked away with a greater appreciation for Manchester Orchestra than they had going in. I know that I did.
Unlike Fitz & the Tantrums’ set from an hour earlier, Foster the People appear to know the secret formula to an exciting live show. What is that secret exactly? I’m not entirely sure – earnestness, maybe? Whatever it was, it worked. The reason I’m comparing Fitz & Foster is partly because they were on the same stage, but also partly because I like both bands almost equally and view them as more hit single oriented than brilliant full album oriented. Whereas Fitz & the Tantrums may have been trying a little too hard to engage with the crowd during their Lolla set, Foster the People found the right vibe, played it cool and stuck with it. Singles were spread generously through the half of the set that I saw, and Mark Foster danced around the stage like he was just there to have a good time and play music for some fans who just happened to number in the thousands. Though I was having a good time, about 30 minutes in I decided it was time to venture back to the other side of the park.
Having seen Spoon headline an aftershow on Friday night, I wasn’t too concerned about seeing their full festival set on Saturday. They’re such a great live band though I wanted to see at least a little bit of it. To my partial surprise and actual excitement, the portion of Spoon’s set that I did wind up seeing was largely different than what I’d seen the night before. Songs like “Jonathon Fisk” and “My Mathematical Mind” are favorites I was hoping to hear, and suddenly my wish was granted. Beyond that, it was a pretty strong show overall. Maybe not quite as amazing as their full set in a smaller venue, but still great. My singular gripe with Spoon at the moment concerns their hit single “The Underdog,” which they’re obliged to play at every show from here throughout eternity. They’ve done away with any actual horns (which is an essential part of the track) and replaced them with artificial keyboard horns. It makes the track sound dinky compared to the muscular recorded version. If they could get just one band member to play trumpet for that song it’d make a world of difference. While I loved Spoon’s set, it’s worth noting a friend told me he was disappointed, claiming they “sound much rawer on record.”
If there was one set on Saturday I was most excited for, Jenny Lewis‘ would probably be it. I’ve been a fan of hers for many years, but had never seen her perform solo until now. It was a long time coming, and ultimately a delight. She didn’t attract a huge crowd thanks to her time slot facing off against The Head and The Heart along with the beginning of Outkast, but it made those of us who were there feel that we were witnessing something a little more special and intimate. About half of her set focused on the new album The Voyager, and the rest pulled from her previous two solo efforts along with a couple of tracks from the Rilo Kiley catalog. Dressed in a lovely and colorful airbrushed suit and with her now signature airbrushed acoustic guitar, people danced and sang along for the full 45 minute duration. What more could you ask for?
Part of me had serious gripes about going to see Outkast. I love most of their records, but this whole reunion thing is essentially a huge cash-in, and they perform the exact same set list at every single show. The sheer lack of spontaneity and the clear dislike that Andre 3000 and Big Boi share towards one another have left me apathetic about Outkast. Yet with a 30 minute window between the end of Jenny Lewis’ set and the start of Cut Copy’s, I decided it might be nice to see the hip hop duo do at least a couple of songs. That side of the park had an absolutely massive crowd that was probably the biggest all weekend. People were shouting and rapping/singing along with their favorite tracks the whole time, which I’m sure was great for them but served as a distraction. In the 20 minutes I spent watching the set from very far away, I got to hear “Ms. Jackson” set to Soldier Field fireworks, plus “The Way You Move,” among other things. It was okay, and then I left.
Officially closing out my night would be Cut Copy, who were performing on the small Grove stage sandwiched in between Calvin Harris and Outkast. There was so much noise coming from those two big stages, you couldn’t really hear Cut Copy until you got pretty close by. But wow, what a great set. Over the course of an hour, they plowed through almost all the highlights in their catalog, including old favorites like “Hearts on Fire,” and new favorites like “We Are Explorers.” A decent sized crowd danced like crazy for the duration, and the band peppered their performance with some really eye popping visuals that only enhanced the overall experience. They closed things out with “Lights and Music,” and everyone went absolutely nuts. My body may have been extremely tired from spending all day on my feet at a music festival, but suddenly I forgot about all of it and just wanted to move my body. When it was all over, the crowd chanted for one more song, and for a brief minute it seemed like the band might come back out and oblige. Sadly, it was 10 p.m. and the noise curfew was officially in effect so nothing happened. I exited Grant Park on a serious high, and primed to do it all again on Sunday.
A couple weeks back Jenny Lewis and her boyfriend Johnathan Rice released their first album as a duo known as Jenny and Johnny. Lewis you may know from Rilo Kiley or her own solo work, and Rice has had his own solo project for awhile as well. In my review of their record “I’m Having Fun Now”, I wasn’t overly kind to Rice, basically saying he was the weak link in an otherwise lovely album from Jenny Lewis. Well, having heard this interview and live session with the both of them, I stand by that claim. Still, this session is interesting, with simple acoustic guitars and the two voices it works surprisingly well. There’s a small touch of piano as well on “Switchblade”. In the interview, the pair talked about how the project came into existence, why the album title is what it is, and doing some work with Elvis Costello. It’s one of the better artist interviews I’ve heard recently, though things do get a bit awkward when the interviewer goes off on his love for Costello’s TV series “Spectacle”. Good stuff to start your weekend with though, and I hope you enjoy it thoroughly.
Jenny and Johnny, Live on Minnesota Public Radio, 9-12-10:
Jenny and Johnny – Big Wave (Acoustic Live on MPR)
Jenny and Johnny – Animal (Acoustic Live on MPR)
Jenny and Johnny – Switchblade (Acoustic Live on MPR)
In case you weren’t aware prior to right now, the very lovely Jenny Lewis has a boyfriend. You may know Jenny Lewis from a little band called Rilo Kiley, or also through those couple records she’s released under her own name. Her boyfriend goes by the name of Johnathan Rice. He has a music career of his own and has released a couple albums and EPs over the past few years. While Rice has gotten a fair amount of press thanks to his music being used on “The OC”, his career is nowhere near as high profile as his girlfriend’s. Well, now they’re playing together as Jenny and Johnny, and one can’t help but wonder who came up with the idea. Their debut album “I’m Having Fun Now” is out this week, and it pretty much goes as the title suggests. She’s a little bit country, and he’s a little bit rock and roll, and together they make something that sounds a little like both.
Consider “I’m Having Fun Now” to be something of an old school affair, and that’s just the way Jenny and Johnny wanted it to be. The sound of the record is a very classic duet sort of thing, reaching back to the 50s and 60s for inspiration. It is, in many ways, the pair’s attempt to pull off a She & Him, the Zooey Deschanel/M. Ward collaboration. The main difference between the two projects is that the creative divide is clear-cut in She & Him, where Deschanel does virtually all the vocals and Ward handles guitars and arrangements. Jenny and Johnny is extremely interactive by comparison. As they both have singer-songwriter credits to their names, sometimes Jenny will take the lead on a track, and other times Johnny will. They’ll also lend backup vocals and other small singing elements to each other’s songs. A few times they even harmonize their voices for an entire song. For what they’re looking to accomplish, it works quite well. Almost every track is pretty lighthearted and bouncy, good enough to keep your toes tapping and heads bobbing. It sounds like they really enjoyed making this record, and in turn there’s a lot to enjoy while listening to it.
Here’s the thing – there’s a reason why Jenny Lewis has attracted so much attention throughout her career. She’s got an exceptional singing voice, is an impeccable lyricist, and pretty much kicks ass on guitar as well. Johnathan Rice, on the other hand, is just enough of a talent to get signed and sell some records. There’s a reason why he hasn’t reached the levels of popularity and critical acclaim that similar singer-songwriters have (see: Pete Yorn, Ryan Adams, etc.) in recent years. So by teaming up, Jenny and Johnny split the balance between amazing and mediocre pretty evenly. Really what happens is that every time Jenny makes her vocal presence heard, she stomps all over Johnny’s comparatively weak singing. To be clearer, his vocals aren’t bad in the least, they’re just sort of wispy and unmuscular and pale in the face of what Jenny is doing. As to the songwriting, it’s all pretty good. Jenny and Johnny have been writing music together for a few years now, as he helped out on her second solo album “Acid Tongue” and she helped out with his second record “Further North”. They do fine on the words. It’s the execution where the mixed bag enters the fray. It stands to reason that if there were more Jenny and less Johnny on this album, it’d be a better record overall.
While preparing to promote “I’m Having Fun Now”, Jenny and Johnny have been doing a fair number of interviews lately. The way they explain the origins of this project make a fair amount of sense. They’ve been working on each other’s music for awhile now, they’ve been touring together and since they’re also in a relationship, this just made a lot of sense. Additionally, both of them have gone on record saying that being a solo artist is a challenge, having to carry the burden of an entire record on your shoulders without other band members to share it with (yes, most “solo” artists have backing bands, but that’s not the point and they don’t share any credit for the music). Jenny and Johnny was really born out of both wanting to make more music but not alone. As sensible as that may be, “I’m Having Fun Now” kind of hurts both their solo reputations. Longtime fans of Jenny Lewis will be upset that Johnny keeps stepping on some of these melodies. And Johnathan Rice spends much of the record getting steamrolled by his girlfriend’s easy charm and strong musical talent, so it’s sort of embarassing for him. Lightening up a bit though, Johnathan Rice is not a BAD artist by all means and he is legitimately talented to the point where his career to this point is justified. This record is just the equivalent of having some relatively indistinguishable NBA player face off against Michael Jordan in his prime. The guy was good enough to get to the NBA, but he’s no superstar just as Johnny is good enough to be signed to a label and tour nationally, but he’s not of the same caliber that Jenny is. Ignoring the two talents behind this project though, “I’m Having Fun Now” is a pretty nice folk and alt-country record that should satisfy a whole lot of people. Try not to criticize it too much (as has been done here), and it’s extremely easy to like. This probably isn’t intended to be anything brilliant or revolutionary, so you could say it serves its purpose exactly. Give it a try if you’re looking for an easy and breezy record to listen to while hanging out with friends on a lightly chilled fall evening.