If Jenny Lewis’s stage presence is mesmerizing, it’s as much due to her swagger as it is to her voice. On Friday night, she dominated the outdoor stage at Stubbs, restlessly jumping from one end of the stage to the other, climbing on a box that had been placed up front for precisely that purpose, generally filling up the room with physicality and energy. She doesn’t take much time to banter with the crowd, just soaring through track after track from her three-album deep solo catalog, introducing songs periodically with the non-indicative introduction, “Here’s this one.” She says it in such a way that you can tell how popular a track is by the inflection she puts on the this.
Lewis’s show was part of the ACL Late Night series that populates the city during the (now two, soon to be twenty, probably) weeks of the festival, filling up local venues with some of the more interesting attendees, lest they get bored in their hotels or something. The series is a decent alternative for those of us who are too poor or lazy to attend ACL proper, letting audiences soak up the ACL ambiance without all the sweaty white people in bodypaint.
The show comes as Lewis does the victory lap for her well-received and genuinely engaging recent solo album, The Voyager, which manages to retain her solo aesthetic, equal parts confessional and jazzy ephemera, while showcasing songwriting and production head and shoulders above her earlier work, which always left this writer a little underwhelmed. She performed dressed in the same suit she showcases on the album cover, featuring a blazer adorned with a tropical starry sky, and miscellaneous set dressing on the stage showed the same pattern. There was something a bit schticky about it, but she made it work.
Opening for her was another ACL visitor, the Belle Brigade, a brother-sister duo out of Southern California. For this show, Barbara and Ethan Gruska, Barbara on drums and vocals and Ethan on guitars and vocals, were accompanied by a bassist and a keyboardist. They put on an enjoyable show, warming up the full house with something that felt like a mix between indie folk and SoCal power pop. It’s not the most remarkable style in the world, but any vocalist who can sing well while also playing the drums is going to hold my attention, and there’s a wonderful alchemy in the sibling’s voices, a vulnerable roughness that reminds me a bit of Tegan and Sara in its best moments. It’s bright and often optimistic music—they introduced their track “Be Like Him” by telling a story about flying fish and explaining the song as a paen to learning to do things you thought you couldn’t (which is a good enough song, but I couldn’t help thinking about that one Mountain Goats line about the pathetic tragedy of chickens trying to fly).
Their best showing, for my money, was in their first-album track “Losers,” an honest anthem to being a fuck up that showcases the Gruskas’ vocal prowess front and center. “There will always be someone better than you,” they sing, “even if you’re the best.” It was a moment that felt at a peace with the ending of Lewis’s performance, with her encore including the intimate, mournful “Acid Tongue.” Both are songs about making the best you can with what you have, and the evening felt quiet and beautiful as Lewis sang, “and now I am tired… let’s build ourselves a fire,” a strong capper to a lovely show.
Jake Muncy is a freelance writer, editor, and poet living in Austin, TX. In addition to writing for Ovrld, he contributes to The AV Club, is the Games Editor of Loser City and his writing can be found anywhere else he can convince people to post it. You can contact him by email or twitter, where he tweets regularly about video games, the Mountain Goats, and sandwiches. He has very strong feelings about Kanye West.