Review: Rilo Kiley; September 15, 2007 at Riviera; Chicago

Rilo Kiley - September 15, 2007
photo by motionsharp

It’s no surprise that Rilo Kiley‘s Jenny Lewis can sing. And it’s not much of a surprise that Blake Sennett can play guitar. But what is a surprise is that both of them sound just as good live as they do in the studio, and that the rest of the band’s musicianship is of such a high caliber. Lewis, talented and sexy as ever, nailed every note while transitioning through the group’s wide array of styles and switching from keys to guitar to bass and back all night long. Sennett’s guitar playing was spot-on. And when he stepped up to the mic for songs such as “Ripchord” and “Dreamworld,” he only further proved his abilities.

Bassist Pierre de Reeder and drummer Jason Boesel laid down thick grooves and tasty licks that complemented the overall quality of the music. From straightforward rock to funk riffs to country swagger, the 4 (sometimes 6, as they were occasionally joined by multi-instrumentalists that were only mentioned once through a muddy sound system) played a 16 song set that included cuts from all four of their studio releases as well as “Rise Up With Fists,” from Lewis’ solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat.

Their main set closed with “I Never” from the album More Adventurous. When she finished singing the last lines of the song, Lewis left the stage while Sennett, Boesel, and Reeder remained to weave a psychedelic landscape of sound loosely based around the remainder of the song. This, along with the sing-a-long “With Arms Outstretched,” was the highlight of the night.

Nine of the evening’s songs were selections from the new album, Under the Blacklight, and all were greeted with mixed enthusiasm. This 2007 release is their first on a major label and has been receiving more than its share of negative reviews from fans. When the band returned to the stage for an encore, Jenny stated that they would be playing the last song from their new album. The crowd stopped just short of booing; their choice a disappointment to the majority of the audience. The final song was “Does He Love You,” a song that builds and swells to the final verse and explodes in a fury of guitar of drums. Needless to say, the excitement level rose dramatically when the audience figured out which song was coming. However, what should have been a grand finale was lackluster. When the build gained momentum, via Sennett and Boesel (just like it does on the record), Lewis wanted to stay behind and drag out her melodies and words, which confused the band and marred what could have been a perfect finish.

The one thing that the energetic crowd certainly proved to me was that every hipster has a drunken frat-boy/country-lover/deadhead in him. But, when the band on stage is playing their best on catchy tunes like “I Never” and “With Arms Outstretched,” it’s probably hard for anyone to continuously mope for too long.

This was my first time at The Riviera and frankly, I was disappointed—mainly because of the feedback that occurred throughout the show. Though it was never enough to ruin a song, this sort of technical difficulty should not even occur at a venue and/or show of that level. Ms. Lewis and her comrades took these setbacks in stride (I’ve seen “bigger” artists get upset at much less while performing). The place also looks as though they’re in the middle of a renovation, which is fine and may add to that “dirty/old/dive-y club feel,” but half-painted walls and doors without handles weren’t cutting it for me.

Overall, the evening was a success. Those who were there to drink and talk through the whole show got their wish. And those who were there for the music got an incredible display of talent and musicianship.

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