Rilo Kiley @ Webster Hall 5/27/05
Well, before I start this review, let me state that I'd happily pay $23 (the cost of a ticket to this show plus Ticketweb fees) just to look at Jenny Lewis for an hour. She's so cute that it's sickening. So what about the music then? Well openers The Brunettes were from New Zealand and certainly sounded like it, with influences from The Velvet Underground, much like their earlier Kiwi brethren ranging from The Clean to The Chills to Galaxie 500 and later Luna's Dean Wareham and others. The trouble is that though they pulled off a nice, druggy pop sound that at times also reminded me of Spiritualized's excellent 1997 album Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space, they didn't have the songwriting prowess to back it up and were a little too cutesy for my taste. They weren't bad by any means, but there was something inexplicable about them which turned me off slightly.
The next opener, Portastatic, was much better, fortunately. Having never heard them before but being familiar with leader Mac's other, more well-known group Superchunk, I expected a lighter-edged, almost bossa-nova and jazz influenced sound from this side project (at least from what I've read about them throughout the years), but boy was I wrong! What I got was a jarring, 30-minute set that aside from one song in which a member played violin and another one on which she played keyboards, the set could've been taken from a Superchunk gig in the early to mid '90s. I don't mean that they played the same songs. They were all Portastatic songs, but rather they were all loud, abrasive, in-your-face guitar anthems not that far off from classic Superchunk fare like "Slack Motherfucker" (also covered by Firehose) and "On the Mouth", though closer to their later albums like 1995's Here's Where the Strings Come In. While not great, it was certainly enjoyable and it's always good to see an indie-rock veteran like Mac and co. showing the very young audience (I felt positively ancient there) how it's done.
Now onto Rilo Kiley. I love their last album More Adventurous and as you loyal readers (yeah all 10 of you if that many) may remember, I voted it one of my favorite albums of last year, which is why I bought the ticket (I missed their show at Bowery Ballroom a few months back and in retrospect, I really wish I would've seen them there instead since I much prefer that venue over the bigger, cavernous, maze-like and worse-sounding Webster Hall). Thus, I really wanted to like this show. I really did. But I didn't. First off, the sound was awful. I've seen a couple of shows at Webster Hall before and the sound was fine, so I don't know what happened here. Jenny Lewis' exquisite voice, the centerpice of More Adventurous, was so low in the mix from where I was standing (towards the front but over on the left-hand side) that you really had to struggle to hear her on many of the louder numbers, including the excellent "Portions for Foxes", the title track of 2002's The Execution of All Things and the heart-wrenching "Does He Love You?". Now this wouldn't be too much of a problem if the band was tight, but they weren't. Guitarist Blake Sennett came up with a few cool parts and solos throughout the night (although I have to say this: please can the mock rock-star moves and poses; that shit is played out) and the rhythm section and other guitarist played capably as well, but for whatever reason, they just didn't gel. I really think that they had to fix a lot of mistakes in the studio when they recorded More Adventurous because I almost couldn't believe that it was the same band playing last night as the one who played so capably on the last album. Then again, the awful mix might have had something to do with it as well or maybe it was the fact that natural star Lewis (or at least she should be) was so shy that she only came out from behind her guitar and keyboard for a few songs and kept eating the mic (or at least it appeared that way). With that said, her magical voice still captivated on numbers like "I Never" and More Adventurous' title track. In general, the best tracks were the quieter numbers where one could hear Lewis' voice the best. She's got a solo album coming out soon and though I was disappointed with this show, I'm really looking forward to it since I think she's really capable of even more great things, especially without the rest of her band distracting her.