Words and Photos by Jason Gonulsen
“I closed my eyes and I was free at last,” Jenny Lewis sang as she finished “Head Underwater,” which opened last night’s show at The Ready Room in St. Louis. The song also begins Lewis’ latest album, The Voyager, and I can’t tell you how many times it’s gotten me through a day. Because days get long. They’re filled with rebuttals, looks, glares, updates, and almosts. And so, we need songs like “Head Underwater.” We need artists like Jenny Lewis.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about female musicians being underrepresented at major music festivals, which, if you haven’t checked the numbers, is a fact. I wish that would change, but I don’t think the problem is present because of a lack of talent, or somehow not being worthy of performing (opener Nikki Lane, pottymouth and all, should and probably will be selling out venues like The Ready Room in the near future). I honestly don’t know the reason — because I don’t book festivals — but I do know that it’s been happening for a long, long time. Just look at the Woodstock lineup from 1969.
Still, it doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t even make sense. Because what Jenny Lewis managed to do last night in front of 800 people could have easily translated into the thousands, even if her show wasn’t necessarily built to do just that. What I mean is that part of the reason why she is so good is that you can clearly see that she’s not interested in simply going through the motions and waiting to play something like “Baba O’Riley” to send the people home happy. The exact second she hits the floor, she’s bringing it with every tool she has — by the third song, “Moneymaker,” she is shaking her hips, standing on a platform (one that matched the pattern on her suit), clearly owning the songs. And in a smaller room like The Ready Room, everyone, or almost everyone, is in sync with Lewis’ every move.
Lewis dug deep, and if there’s any truth that happiness causes a ripple effect, then she’s going to have to face a couple thousand people who want to hear her take on Rilo Kiley’s “Portions for Foxes” or “With Arms Outstretched,” two songs she and her band, which included Megan McCormick on guitar and Tristen on keys and guitar, performed as if they were new and sealed: they ripped into them.
For the three-song encore, Lewis told us a story about recording with Ryan Adams, who produced The Voyager. Adams had told her to go home and write a “Wonderwall,” which led to Lewis writing the title track. When Lewis played it for Adams, his reaction was, “nah.” To which Lewis countered, “well, I’m recording it anyway.”
Lewis consecutively performed “The Voyager,” a new song titled “Girl on Girl,” and “Acid Tongue” to close the night, the latter which was already a “Wonderwall” as far as I’m concerned.
With her band behind her in a semicircle, the show ended with them singing these words:
And now I tired
It just made me tired
let’s build ourselves a fire
let’s build ourselves a fire
These days are long, and they make us tired — so, so tired.
But on some Sunday evenings we have Jenny Lewis to lift us back up.
With Arms Outstretched
Just One Of The Guys
You Are What You Love
Aloha & the Three Johns
She’s Not Me
Portions For Foxes
Love You Forever
Girl On Girl