The second part of a trifecta of the female, country-inspired, chanteuses’s came through Louisville on Monday (The first being Jolie Holland and final being Neko Case).
Opening for Lewis were Ohio-based The Heartless Bastards. Lead by gold Les Paul weilding Erika Wennerstrom, the Heartless Bastards played a slaying Southern rock set. “The Mountain” the title track off their lastest release was a slide guitarists wet dream. Providing a gilmpse into how the Bastards were carving out a fan-crazed niche in contemporary music. In the 90s, this band would have been lumped in with the glut of alt-country acts. But, listening to the Bastards live, you can hear how they expand the sound. Turning the uber-masculinity (even if somewhat sensative in Ryan Adam’s case) of alt country on it’s head, The Heartless Bastards use it as a stepping stone toward something unique. The slide guitar in “The Mountain” wasn’t accompanying the band. It was leading it — aching out rhythm and punctuation rather than soaring over. Wennerstrom’s voice — not the angelic Emmy Lou Harris-insipired sound of many country-inspired groups — was a bleeding ulcer of emotive yawlp. It was a blue collar party atmosphere to say the least. And the Bastards played with the seasoned assult of a great touring band. No note was frivilous or fouled up. Instead we were all driven home by the onslaught, so unrelenting that the Bastards immediately jumped up there with acts like The Black Keys as one of the best blue-collar, bluesy, indie rock groups out there today. Lead by Wennerstrom’s bashing and vocal bellow, we can expect to hear more from those bastards very soon.
Jenny Lewis knew we were all looking at her. The dashing indie superstar pranced on to the stage in an 80s Raiders tee, short cut mom shorts and fishnets. Through the opening song – a blistering rendition of Acid Tongue standout “See Fernando,” Lewis worked her near-mythic sexuality to its peak. Teasing and tormenting the audience, yes, the same people who would later be yelling “I love you” as a cacophonous pitch, the same group that included some guy with a bad mullett bringing flowers to the stage, the same crowd where one guy threw his shorts on stage. If there is an indie rock equivalent of flashing Axl, it’s throwing your shorts at Jenny Lewis.
Ordinarily, I’d shy away from such obviously superficial remarks about a singer at a show. But, let’s face it, this is JENNY LEWIS. Indie rock doesn’t really have a lot of good looking heroes. I mean, we worship Elliott Smith, for chrissake. Lewis’s looks aren’t a novelty, but they’re definatly something that we have to confront not matter how many times we may look at our friends and say, “no really, it’s all about the music.” And in one of the most brilliant moments of the show, you could tell how much Lewis knew that there were a bunch of people staring at her. Flirtatiously drining a Negro Modello, winking, rocking her hips, it was a kind of indie rock femme fatale — watching us watch her. Performing how we thought we were wanting to see her, and then mocking it at the same time. Because, in the end, it was about the show. And the hyper romantic (or hopeful romantic) gestures were ultimately shrugged off with Lewis, who mouthed “Oh Shit” as the bouquet of flowers advanced on the stage. You could tell she wasn’t here to be looked at. She was here to play.
And play she did. It was a short set, barely over an hour, running through a handful of songs from her record with Louisville’s The Watson Twins (not in attendance) and the aforementioned Acid Tongue as well as a gorgeous cover of George Harrison’s “Handle with Care.” Despite the obvious awareness that she was the main attraction, Lewis’s deeds made it clear that she wasn’t hogging the spotlight. Letting the band jam through both at the close of the set and then during the encore. Lewis was really working her band. If you haven’t heard Acid Tongue, and I hadn’t until Monday, it’s worth a listen, but unless you’re a hardcore fan, you may only come up with a few tracks that make your daily iTunes rotation. Live is a different story. What’s immediately different is the addition of a Jane-of-all-trades (whose name I can’t find) who spent most of the show banging away at one percussive instrument or another (when she wasn’t laying down sick guitar solos). If Rabbit Fur Coat is an atmospheric theology wondering, then Acid Tongue is a nostalgic hymn to psychedelia and past exploits. I don’t know much of Lewis’s past, but something in this show struck a chord with a previous Cat Power show I had seen. Both seemed to say: “I’m here. I’m clean now.” The dionysian revelry wasn’t quelled, but was contained. The mark of a group hedging their bets or more interested in playing than partying. Either way, Lewis and company sounded pretty damn good. “The Next Messiah,” which seems to crawl a bit on the record, became a funk jam in the middle. And “Jack Killed Mom” wasn’t as much a folk song as it was an ecastic choral tune treading that old jealous trail.
The Heartless Bastards really impressed. But, Lewis held her ground, churning out great live tracks that (even if you were there just to see her) made her look great.
More pics and video below the break…
Fernando (Opening song)
Jack Killed Mom