One of the reasons I went to the Jenny Lewis show last night was to get a gander at the Scottish Rite Hall where the concert was held. I’d heard it was nice, but come on… it’s really nice. It’s downright gorgeous. And the bathrooms! It could become Omaha’s version of Lawrence’s Liberty Hall, except that it’s a lot smaller. To think I’ve been driving past that place for years never knowing that there was a old-fashioned theater stage inside. Anyway… we got there early and took a pair of seat in the balcony, foregoing the main floor. I’m happy we did, but more on that later.
The show started rather unremarkably with opening act Whispertown 2000. The LA-based four-piece are pals of Lewis’, having released a split single with her. Yikes, they were horrible. The band consisted of frontwoman/guitarist Morgan Nagler, a wedding-dressed tambourine shaker/harmony vocalist, a bass player and a guy on electric guitar. Nagler’s voice is sort of Ricki Lee Jones-esque when it isn’t completely off pitch. When Miss Wedding Dress joined in on harmonies, dogs from a five-mile radius could be heard howling in pain and fear. Particularly cringe-worthy was a butchering of Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio” and an a cappella number where the guys snapped fingers alongside the girls — real high school talent-show stuff. Ah, but the crowd loved ’em… maybe because they were so cute, unsophisticated and obviously lacking in talent.
After that low-point, however, things took a decided turn for the better with Jonathan Rice. I guarantee that in five years you’ll be seeing this guy on one of the late-night chat shows, and turn to whoever is lying next to you and say, “I saw that guy when he was just a kid open for Jenny Lewis” (Rilo Kiley having long been broken up). He reminded me of a young Jackson Browne, but without the broken-hearted lyrics. With acoustic guitar in hand and accompanied by a guy on pedal steel, Rice played a quiet, upbeat set that included a sing-a-long and a cover of Neva Dinova’s “Poison” from the Neva/Bright Eyes split EP. In addition to being musically talented, Rice is quick-witted, with some funny between-song patter.
Then came the headliners — Lewis and the Watson Twins. What to say about those twins… they’re kind of creepy and kitschy, with their matching black cocktail dresses, ’70s-era feathered LA hairstyles and mirrored do-what-I-do poses, it felt like something out of a David Lynch movie. There’s no denying their vocal talents, they brought a whole new layer of sound to the ensemble, which included Rice, his pedal-steel player (doubling on keyboards), a bass player and Rilo Kiley’s Jason Boesel on drums. I only wish the twins had been used more during the set. They spent most of their time standing side-by-side with their arms behind their backs, or adding bits of percussion (one song featured the two of them tapping rocks together).
The set began with the band on stage and Lewis and the twins entering from stage right singing “Run Devil Run” before launching into “The Big Guns.” And here’s where I’ll add that note about the Scottish Rite Hall — there is a wide space between the stage and the first row of chairs where about 50 people sat on the floor during the first two performances. About 30 seconds into Lewis’ first song, the crowd rushed the stage — everyone stood up and was joined by about 50 others. I couldn’t tell from my seat in the balcony, but I assume everyone on the main floor (or at least most of the first few rows) stood up for the entire set, as there would be nothing to see seated except for a lot of blue-jeaned asses. Hey, this is a rock show — what did they expect?
Lewis’ entire set was twangier than her album (which, to me, sounds borderline Azure Ray). With those twins out front, the whole thing had a revival-tent flair, helped along by a crowd that was eager to testify. I half-way expected the twins to yell “Praise Him!” between songs. Lewis’ voice has always been first-rate, like listening to an indie version of Loretta or Patsy. “Rise Up With Fists!!!,” with its classic Van Morrison-style chorus, was made to be played your local Smooth FM radio station, and probably will wind up there eventually. The main set ended with a Boesel drum solo (this is the second drum solo I’ve heard at an indie show in a month, let’s hope this isn’t the beginning of a trend). Lewis came back out a few minutes later and did a solo number before being joined by the twins for another a cappella song and finally the whole band for one song. All in all, a nice set by one of tomorrow’s radio stars. If she isn’t already, Lewis is bound to become the biggest act on Oberst’s Team Love label (besides Bright Eyes, of course), and could spur another C&W revival among the indie set — God help us all.
Tonight at Sokol Underground — Of Montreal. I was afraid that this show was being overlooked, but the promoters tell me that ticket sales have been brisk. With only one opening band, it could even be a early evening. $10, 9 p.m.
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