Reviews

The Execution of All Things

Author: Steven Hanna
01/09/2004 | Entertainment Today | www.ent-today.com | Live Show Preview
"I wrote this song for somebody," noted Jenny Lewis, "but now I can't remember who it was." Such was the introduction to "Somebody Else's Clothes," one of five exceptional new tunes debuted by Rilo Kiley in the low-key kick-off to an acoustic tour that lays bare Lewis' superb voice and guitarist Blake Sennett's sensitive guitar playing. That Lewis is one of the finest female vocalists around today, barely a hiccup away from stardom, didn't come as a surprise to anyone in the crowd who knew her work, though even longtime fans couldn't help gasping in astonishment when she tore into "I Never," a new piano-and-vocal piece that sounded a little like Patsy Cline tackling the Beatles' "Oh! Darling." Sennett's diffident stage persona contrasts sharply with Lewis' unflappably professional demeanor, but hearing his rambling preface to their heartbreaking cover of Robert Palmer's "Simply Irresistible"—and I kid you not on the heartbreakingness—was like hearing the shy kid in the back of the room pipe up with a welcome bit of offbeat brilliance midway through a bogged-down class discussion.

The most difficult, and most charming, part of Rilo Kiley's music is its surprising tonal complexity. The songs are very smart and very sexy and somehow also very sad, and the crisp and slightly overcooked lyrics to a song like "A Better Son/Daughter," pulled from 2002's superb The Execution of All Things to open the Glass House set, are finely matched to the wistful mood of the music, but at the same time they feel at odds with it, as if Lewis and Sennett would be hard-pressed to tell you whether it's a curse or a blessing to be articulate, whether intelligence lays you open to hopelessness or is the only true defense against it. But the glory of an acoustic performance is often that you get to sound out the structural integrity of a band's songwriting, and this impeccable stripped-down show made it clear that Rilo Kiley's songs are rock-solid despite an occasional tendency toward show-off-ily unorthodox song structures. "Go Ahead" in particular is a tune for the ages, while the new "Absence of God," with its faint echoes of Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road," feels like the band is moving toward a new level of confidence in its songcraft. Done up with the full band, as I'm sure they will be in another tour in the months ahead, these tunes will knock you off your feet. Whoever it was that Lewis wrote that song for, he or she should feel very honored indeed.