While Toto and former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald were literally bringing the Cali yacht-rock vibe to Red Butte Garden Tuesday, Jenny Lewis was playfully evoking the same era at her Depot show in downtown Salt Lake City.
From her flowing purple robe draped over a retro pastel pantsuit to the sunny pop vibe of most of the new songs from her latest release, The Voyager, the 38-year-old Lewis on Tuesday seemed like an artist who preferred the psychedelic glow of the '70s to her own generation's music. A close listen to her lyrics, though, reveals a woman clearly living in the here and now, managing to create plenty of laugh-out-loud couplets even within tales of heartbreak and woe.
That ability to combine the sour and the sweet is what makes Lewis one of my favorite songwriters, and her concerts live up to my high expectations as well. At the Depot, Lewis led an excellent five-piece band through songs heavily drawn from The Voyager, but touching on her other solo albums and years fronting Rilo Kiley as well.
In fact, she opened the show with Rilo Kiley's "Silver Lining," a choice that immediately got the crowd into the show, even as Lewis paused after to do a little artistic direction with the venue's lighting.
"Can we make it a little 'vibe-ier' up here?" she asked, hoping for some darkness on stage. "And can we turn down the lights on the crowd? I love seeing you guys, but this is a little too real. Mystery. Illusion!"
With that, Lewis was off and running through a slew of songs from The Voyager. "Just One of the Guys," the first single, was a welcome early performance. Lewis switched from guitar to keyboards for "Head Underwater" before returning to center stage for "Slippery Slopes," one of the new album's best tracks.
On "Pretty Bird" from her Acid Tongue album, Lewis showcased a truly impressive vocal ability as she prowled the stage. She seemed to get more and more comfortable as a frontwoman throughout the show. By the end, she was standing up on monitors, raising her hand and working the crowd from side to side--even as she contended with the bright spotlights that made her feel "like I'm part of a salad bar. We're not quite to the soft-serve station yet."
Rilo Kiley fans will be happy to know "The Moneymaker" and "A Better Son/Daughter" were both prominent parts of the show. As a fan of Lewis's first solo collection, Rabbit Fur Coat, I was was happy to hear both the gorgeous harmonies of "Rise Up with Fists!!" and the pretty "You Are What You Love."
The songs from The Voyager were the well-deserved highlights of the show, though. "The New You," "Late Bloomer," "Aloha & the Three Johns" and "Love U Forever" were all excellent, as was the final encore song, "She's Not Me."
All told, it was 17 songs of excellent performances serving as a potent reminder that Lewis is an artist who's been worth watching for a long time already. And she's only getting better.