The Beacon Theatre‘s playbill for Jenny Lewis’s concert last Thursday displayed a curious itinerary: M. Ward at 8PM, Rabbit Fur Coat at 9PM, and a “voyage through the past, present and future” at 10PM.
“Voyage” was a reference to both Lewis’s latest solo album The Voyager and her musical journey from 1998 to the present — a trajectory that became palpable as the night unfolded.
2016 marks 10 years since the release of Lewis’s first solo album Rabbit Fur Coat, which was just reissued on red vinyl. The record broke from her work as lead singer of indie-pop band Rilo Kiley, incorporating country and folk influences and featuring collaborations with indie-folk legend M. Ward, former Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst, and alt-country sister duo The Watson Twins.
Two of these three collaborators shared the stage with Lewis Thursday night. M. Ward’s opening set, which included a cover of Tony Martin’s “I Get Ideas” that was featured on HBO’s “Girls” and a track from his upcoming album No Rain, delivered the solid performance expected of an artist who has been releasing albums since 1999. He shone brightest, though, alongside the headliner.
For part two of the performance, Lewis entered with The Watson Twins, each holding a candle and harmonizing on “Run Devil Run,” Rabbit Fur Coat‘s first track. In fact, the entire segment followed the album’s order, ending with a reprise of the bittersweet ballad “Happy.” Ward contributed his guitar to several numbers and sang in “Handle with Care.”
At age 40, Lewis is no longer the damaged former child actor who belted her quarter-life angst as Rilo Kiley’s frontwoman. The band, which dissolved in 2011, explored unrequited love, suicide, and other themes that let millennial teenagers know at least someone somewhere was as sad as them.
Rabbit Fur Coat tackles more mature experiences like growing disillusioned with religion, coming to terms with a dysfunctional upbringing, and overcoming fear of intimacy. In its 12 tracks, Lewis makes peace with her troubled past and accepts responsibility over her future.
Lewis’s performance style has paralleled her personal and musical growth. She shouts less and smiles more than in her Rilo Kiley days. Like M. Ward, she’s been making music since the late 90’s, and she commanded the stage with the professionalism and ease only a music industry veteran can project.
The flip side of Lewis’s musical evolution is that she comes off less connected to her older songs. During the concert’s third portion, “Silver Lining” felt detached without her former sass.
Throughout the evening, Lewis’s lyrics came to life, taking on new meanings amid her psychedelic set. Rabbit Fur Coat‘s eponymous track, which sounds like an amusing cautionary tale about materialism in recordings, became an intimate confession about her estrangement from her mother as she sang it alone with no instruments but her guitar. “It Wasn’t Me,” a cynical song about dodging responsibility, became funny as she lackadaisically belted, “it doesn’t count because I don’t care.”
At one point, though, she actually altered the words. In “The Charging Sky,” where the recording describes her parents as “spreading infection, somehow we’re not affected,” she instead sang, “somehow I’m not affected.”
Whatever her intentions, I couldn’t help but read this slight rewording as a testament to Lewis’s transformation from part of a “we” to a freestanding “I,” connected to but independent from her former band and upbringing.