What was really great and what was really wrong about this gig was perfectly encapsulated in the version of Born Secular that Jenny Lewis, the Watson Twins, and their band played just before going off for the encore. On Jenny’s debut solo album Rabbit Fur Coat, it’s a gorgeous song – with plaintive, painful lyrics, and swoonsome harmonies from the Twins. Live onstage at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire it’s a bit of a different beast. The melodies and harmonies still send a tingle up the spine. But what’s this? Heavy, overpowering bass sound, and drums kicking in and suppressing the beauty of the song. And when Jenny Lewis, closely followed by the Watson Twins and the rest of the band all leave the stage, the bass player and drummer remain to continue an extended jam. Then the bass player departs, leaving us with a crashing drum solo. Now the drummer is pretty good at his craft, but I don’t go to Jenny Lewis gigs to hear drum solos! Let’s leave that to the old rockers - please.
The beefed-up full band sound works really well for up-tempo country rockers like brilliant new song Jack Killed Mom, but the delicate beauty of the quieter songs, and particularly the Watson’s vocals, (like my favourite Happy) get lost a bit in the rhythm section, with the bass set a bit too high. However, it’s not all bad. We get a few glimpses of the quieter beauty, most notably in the songs Jenny performs solo (such as Rabbit Fur Coat) and just accompanied by the Watson Twins (there was one particularly lovely untitled new song).
And the encore was to die for – a solo performance of Melt Your Heart, then Jenny and the Twins doing an acapella version of the Shirelles’ I Met Him on a Sunday, and the closer, a cover of the traditional gospel song Cold Jordan which turns into a celebratory clap hands, stamp feet piece of joy – complete with a swirling glitterball swathing the Empire in little flecks of light. It’s a wonderful finale, and enough to make me forget any previous disappointments.
To complain too much would be churlish. Lewis is a consummate performer, with a great voice and whole set worth of amazing songs which stretch beyond her short debut album. She really doesn’t need to return to her other job fronting Rilo Kiley. So on balance, a bit of a winner, but she needs to tone down the drums, and that bloody bass, and let the true beauty shine through.
Here's a couple of songs from Rabbit Fur Coat, plus another couple from their recent KCRW session - that new song and Cold Jordan.
Download: Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins: Happy
Download: Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins: New (untitled) song (live KCRW)
Download: Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins: Cold Jordan
Download: Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins: It Wasn't Me
Buy Rabbit Fur Coat
My pics from the gig are a bit ropey, on account of being perched in the gods, up on the third balcony. Ushtastic has some better ones on his Flickr site.