Ok, Bright Eyes didn’t show last week, so all my hopes for a good first gig back in the UK rested with Rilo Kiley at The Rescue Rooms last night. And I’m a big Rilo Kiley fan. They do that kind of quite easy on the ear but with an edge alt stuff (I have no idea how to describe it; there’s probably a good label somewhere but I don’t know what it is. Guitars are involved.), singer Jenny Lewis has a really good voice, and their lyrics are intelligent and, more often than not, sexy and realistic and to the point. Their new record sounds, on first listenings, like it’s had a bit more money thrown at it than their previous records, which is probably the case because it’s on a major label; I’ve had it for a couple of days and it gets stronger on each play. They do good tunes, which is more than can be said for some.
So what happened last night? Well, I’d forgotten what a wanky thing it can be standing around waiting for the top of the bill to come on stage. You’ve tolerated the support, one of those amiable chaps with a guitar (a singer-songwriter, that’s what he was) who wouldn’t know a decent tune if it came and kissed him, and now you’re waiting. And waiting. You wonder what the hell they’re doing back there, or if they’re even in town yet. Roadies are pratting around on the stage. One of them makes a big deal of laying out beer and water for the band. It’s tough work but someone has to do it.
But here they are. The band. At last. Jenny Lewis is “the star” but somehow she manages not to speak to the audience until well past the halfway point in the show. She seems happy and smiling, and she’s in good voice, but it’s left to the co-founder of the band, Blake Sennett over there on guitar, to do the talking. Which he can do, kind of. They play a decent selection of songs, from the earlier records and the new one, which only came out a day or so ago. They’re good songs, no doubt about it. They also do a “cover” of a song from Lewis’s (almost-) solo record that came out a year or two back. To me it all sounded good, but efficient rather than charged with energy. I could've been playing the records at home for all the buzz the band was giving off. But the audience liked it all. At least, they clapped and whooped. But I’ve heard more enthusiastic claps and whoops and there was, I think, a sense of clapping and whooping because, let’s face it, that’s what you do.
I’m sure that by now you’re thinking I’m less than enthusiastic, and difficult to please. I mean, here’s one of my favourite bands, playing songs I like, and playing them pretty damn well, and I’m feeling less than excited. The thing is, they were playing pretty damn well but it was also sounding pretty damn routine and, at times, dull. At one point I perked up: Lewis abandoned her guitar and went on to the keyboards, and for 30 seconds or so and some good strong chords I thought they were going to metamorphose into The Postal Service (a band of which Lewis was a part) which would have been great, but it kind of came and went and another Rilo Kiley song came along and Rilo Kiley songs are not Postal Service songs and I was left wondering what that little burst of electricity was all about. Something, something was missing from the show. A spark of passion. A bit of excitement. Being good humoured and friendly is good. Playing well is good. But I’d trade a portion of those things in for a bit of bite and the odd fuck up, to be honest.
When Lewis got to talking to us, and they got into some of the funkier songs from the new record, things woke up a little, but it was getting late, and her moves to get close to the audience and actually touch hands were routine rather than inspired. Calls for the usual encore were also routine, and somewhat short, and singularly lacking in energy. Of course, they did an encore, and then we all went home.
I realise I’ve used the word “routine” a lot; so it goes. It was the word in my mind most of the evening, so I’m using it here.
I really like Rilo Kiley. I’m playing the new record now, as I write this. You can hear the title track by going over to the sidebar. But it wasn’t the greatest gig I’ve ever been to. I really wish Bright Eyes had shown up last week. That was the one I reckon would’ve been hot.