Jenny Lewis is having an incredible year. She released her fourth album On The Line, hosted a guest-packed live telethon, and received a star on the iconic First Avenue. Now she’s embarking on a massive tour across the US through the fall. Her stop at St. Paul’s Palace Theater is an early one in the tour.
The show began with a set from Chicago hip hop artist Serengeti. He is a frequent collaborator with several Minnesotan artists including Andrew Broder. He delivered a beat-heavy set with lyrics that twist and turn, weaving together social issues and pop culture.
Crowd members had a lot of varied response, but it was overall positive. The hip hop genre may seem like an odd choice for a Jenny Lewis opener on the surface. However, anyone who follows her closely knows that she draws inspiration from all over the musical map.
Jenny has gone all out on this tour. Her stage is grand, complete with a heart-shaped podium and painted pastel piano and set trim. It has a sort of Vaudevillian feel to it. There were clear plastic telephones scattered around the stage that blinked in different neon colors.
The lights came down as her band took their places on stage. A flash of blue backlight and the blinking phones provided the only light to guide her to her piano.
The crowd screamed with anticipation as she emerged from the back of the stage. Her dress was a sparkly champagne color that looked fit for a proper lounge singer. She began to play the opening song, “Heads Gonna Roll”.
A line in the song with a local reference heated up the audience even more. They screamed as she sang about the road trip she took with “a narcoleptic poet from Duluth”.
The massive stage felt intimate as Lewis continued on the piano. Next with “Wasted Youth”, then “Party Clown”. She coyly smirked at the audience as she sang her witty lyrics to each song as if she were performing to a small audience instead of an audience of 2,000.
As Lewis took her place on the podium her phone began to ring:
“Hello? Oh what’s up St. Paul?! Thanks for coming!”
The crowd went nuts. Her dress shone in all its glory as the lights came up. The audience heard the first cords of “Head Underwater” from her 2014 album The Voyager and the energy intensified.
The song describes someone who is all-in and ready for anything. Life experiences, no matter how difficult, can be blessings in disguise. This notion is found in Lewis’ lyrics a lot. It’s probably why people connect so strongly with her music. One audience member had flown in from Nebraska for the show. She’s got a true following.
“My own mortality, I contemplated
Down in the valley
I got hypnotized
It left a mark that hasn’t faded
That’s when I realized
There’s a little bit of magic,
Everybody has it
There’s a little bit of fight left in me yet”
Lewis raised her fist in the air as the song came to an end.
Lewis’ set was filled with songs from her four solo albums, but she also worked in some songs from her band Rilo Kiley as well. “Silver Lining” is a feel-good song in the vein of George Harrison that got everyone excited early in the set. Her voice was rich and soulful.
There were some surprises built into the set. One was her reggae style rework of “The Voyager” which she titled “Voyajah”. She was all smiles as she flirtatiously prowled the stage. Her backup singers added rich harmonies.
It seems as if Lewis is most at home with her new material. It’s exciting to see her so playful onstage. The environment she’s created for herself, and the band that she has assembled seem to make her feel at home.
“Little White Dove” was where Lewis really embraced the Vaudevillian feel as she swayed around her podium and microphone. Her voice grew more soulful to match the vibe of the song. Suddenly giant balloons began to fall from the ceiling and the crowd went insane. It was a beautiful view from everywhere in the house.
Her latest single, “Red Bull and Hennessy,” was next. She’s been performing this song locally for a few years, and hearing the official version made it feel like we had seen the songwriting process from beginning to end.
The phone onstage began to ring and she sat on the edge of the podium to answer it. The band began the album title track “On The Line”. She sang into the phone rather than her microphone.
It brought the performance back into an intimate space again. The phone vocals made the song feel like a teen romance movie.
“It used to be Bobby forever
We were together day and night
He left me for an east side girl
Before you let her under your sweater, tonight
Listen to my heart beating
On the line”
Lewis stripped things down a bit toward the end of her set as she performed Rilo Kiley song “With Arms Outstretched”. The only light in the room was provided by the audience. She asked everyone to take out their phones and shine their flashlights at her dress.
It was a gorgeous way to incorporate audience participation. She looked like a disco ball as the beading reflected the light back to the house. She stepped off stage and the Palace went dark.
After a short break, Lewis returned to her piano to begin her encore with “Dogwood”. It’s clear that this song is extremely meaningful to her. It was polished but still felt very emotional.
She finished her show with another Rilo Kiley favorite, “Portions for Foxes”, and a sweltering version of “See Fernando”. The guitars went out blazing. It was the perfect way to end the show. She brought her band out to take a bow and smiled graciously at the audience.
A lifetime of acting and performing music has sculpted her into a prolific presence on any stage she graces. While it feels like she is at her best ever right now, I can’t imagine a time when she won’t be climbing even higher.