It seems that this year’s anniversary of the tragic 9/11 terrorist attacks of years ago was a good night for music. Perhaps it was the air of memoriam of respect in the air?
Or maybe I was just lucky to have shown up for the phenomenal live performance of Rilo Kiley with Grand Ole Party and Jonathan Rice.
Rice played the second opening set, soulfully singing songs about being stuck in the desert and dying, coyotes taking over the state of California, and encouraged the audience to sing along the entire time. Raised in Virginia with a wee but of a Glaswegian accent, Rice’s style is an amalgam of classic rock greats like Tom Petty and Neil Young combined with newer alt-methods á la My Morning Jacket.
One of Rice’s songs was a duo with Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley); a song they co-wrote for his album about the end of an affair. “It’s the end of the affair, and I don’t care, I want you to leave me alone, just leave me the hell alone.” The pair sang together like a Peter, Paul, and Mary minus Peter creation, creating a nostalgic harmony reminiscent of folk heroes of years past.
We waited, for quite some time, for the roadies and band members to do whatever it is they do between sets, and when the lights finally went down and the band entered, the audience cheered wildly for their lovely indie heroes, backed by a shiny golden curtain.
Lewis, the band’s charismatic red-headed front woman, came out wearing black short shorts with silver leggings (seriously, what is with the tight legging phase that is all of a sudden so hot right now?), a black top decorated with a few sparkles, silver shoes, and of course, her beautiful guitar.
The group opened the set with the shoe-in, “It’s a Hit,” and set the precedent for an absolutely amazing show. Lewis was smiling very coyly through many of the songs, and the entire band seemed to have this rad knack for very subtly bobbing their heads in perfect synchronicity the entire time. They played several tracks from the new album, including “Close Call” and “Breakin’ Up,” the latter of which seems to initially lament the parting of a partner, only to end up truly rejoicing in the splendor of being single: “Oh yeah, it feels good to be free!”
The comparisons of Rilo Kiley to Fleetwood Mac become so much more apparent during a live show, the true resonance being that Lewis has this crazy ability to treat her voice like a Jack-in-the-Box, much like Stevie Nicks used to do. One moment she is singing a tune in a steady, clear voice, and the next she is belting out monster country-ballad segments that are honestly awe-inspiring. The girl sings like a Nicks/Dolly Parton/ Emmylou Harris hybrid, depending on the song; but in any case, that girl has got some serious pipes!
As the group finished with the classic ’50s style country ballad “I Never,” the audience was given a bit of a jolt as a shitload of strobe lights pounded the stage along with the much-more-frenetic keyboard intro for “Silver Lining.” Out of nowhere (nowhere being the far upstairs corner of the balcony), a rather large silver balloon started being bumped around the theater. It meandered over the crowd for a few minutes until a stage monkey ran up to protect the band and popped it, thus releasing the short-lived silver glitter shower inside of it.
The band played an amazing, long set. “Portions for the Foxes,” “The Money Maker,” and “Smoke Detector” were also heard and the audience shoegazed respectfully throughout the show.
I must say I was completely floored by Rilo Kiley’s performance; the rhythm section was spot on and it was easy to see that the band was having a great time as well. Musically and in presence, these kids are enigmatic as hell. They manage to simultaneously be adorable, sexual, political, humble, and commanding, all within the space of two hours.
Whether they are singing about war, robbing the cradle, or long lost love, Rilo Kiley does it in a way that makes you fall in love with them on the spot and wish you could have thought of it first.
Photo Credit: Scott D. Smith