LIVE REVIEW: Lower Dens with Ami Dang @ The Roxy

Indie pop band Lower Dens has built up a loyal following since its 2010 inception, with hits like 2015’s ’80s-inspired “To Die in L.A.” and 2016’s introspective “Real Thing” not just providing catchy music but also making people think. They released their fourth album The Competition in September and have since been touring with ambient sitar player and vocalist Ami Dang. On Thursday, February 27, they stopped by LA’s famous Roxy Theatre to perform for an intimate but enthusiastic crowd.

Dang prefaced each of her songs with an explanation of what inspired them, revealing deep meanings behind each. One song’s lyrics came from an old Muslim poem about “how we can not only respect and tolerate one another but find places where spiritually we align,” and another was based on One Thousand and One Nights, setting the stories to music with no lyrics to reclaim whitewashed translations. Behind Dang’s soaring, dream-like voice was a thunderous electronic sound that made my body vibrate. Her huge sitar and passionate, chant-like singing against a background of synths and electronic beats provided a sound that was both modern and spiritual.

Photo credit: Joey DeRusha

The setting was as quirky as the performers themselves, with blue lights cast by a disco ball and confetti sprinkled across the ground. The light on the stage turned from red to purple to orange as Lower Dens performed.

The main act played some of the songs off its latest album, including “Lucky People,” a mellow but dark ballad reminiscent of The Cure, and “I Drive,” an honest and relatable ode to troubled family relationships. The show also featured music from 2015’s Escape from Evil, like the slow, pleading “Ondine,” as well as the haunting “Brains” all the way back from 2012’s Propagation.

Lower Dens have built up their following through their innovative music and artful, poetic lyrics as well as lead singer Jana Hunter‘s outspokenness on issues like gender identity and racism in the music industry. But not all of these appeals translate well into live performances. Hunter’s style of singing often involves swallowing his words, leaving the audience unable to glean their intricate meanings.

The heavy backtracks made it even more difficult to make out the melodies and lyrics, and the band’s performance style was understated, with little movement or displays of emotion, which made the show feel low-energy. While this shoe-gaze style has been done to make a statement in the past, the way the Lower Dens presented themselves felt more like an attempt to play it safe, an unwillingness to commit to any statement — a surprising contrast to Hunter’s boldness in his writing and interviews.

Nevertheless, the band played for an excited crowd of people, who cheered when hits like “To Die in LA” came on and swayed along to the music throughout the performance. As someone who was familiar with Lower Dens but had not followed them closely, I wished they hadn’t buried so much of their music’s profound meaning and emotion. But the show did inspire me to listen to and research their music online when I got home, and perhaps that was the best way to experience its full depth.

Photo credit: Joey DeRusha

LIVE REVIEW: Jenny Lewis @ The Roxy

Jenny Lewis

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Jenny Lewis
Jenny Lewis performing at Shaky Knees Festival in 2014 (Photo by Robb D. Cohen/Invision/AP)

Much anticipation led up to Jenny Lewis’ May 6th stop at The Roxy. After touring with The Postal Service for most of 2013, Lewis has only granted her fans five solo shows, and Tuesday would mark her first appearance at  The Roxy in 2014. Long awaited, and much overdo, she returned with new material to make audiences squeal.

Having fallen hard for Jenny Lewis in my late teens, my first time at The Roxy (or in West Hollywood for that matter) couldn’t have been more filled with excitement, as my adolescent dreams would coming to fruition in an instant. After perusing her setlists from the Bridge School Benefit and much earlier shows, there really was no predicting what Jenny was going to pull out of her hat. All anyone really knew was that she was on at 9:30, and her opener, described as magical, was on at 9:23.

And magical he was! The rather cheeky magician performed a shrinking card act, a self-mending string trick, and ended with a cutout paper snowflake that eventually read The Voyager, the title of Jenny Lewis’ upcoming album. When the magic act ended, the curtain dropped suddenly and the real anxiety began.

If there is anything that is certain about Jenny Lewis fans, it is that their love for her does not stray from the extreme. I found myself gushing with fellow fans moments before the curtain rose, the type of gushing where you are unknowingly blushing and clutching your heart in swoon. When the curtain rose, the crowd erupted and Jenny sat down at the keyboard for the first song. I couldn’t help but notice that the performer had barely aged in the last ten years and is as energetic and on point than ever.

She opened with “Head Under Water,” a solid choice considering that the wonderfully upbeat piano ballad with a kick-drum rhythm got the crowd moving. After her first song she couldn’t help but crack an infectious smile; the crowd went nuts. She remarked  how long it had been and then busted out a Rilo Kiley classic, “Silver Lining.” Now, for me, the Rilo Kiley songs hit me hard, and by the gasp of the crowd, I could tell I was not alone. These were the most poignant moments of the night, and they warranted the best sing-alongs.

Lewis’ performance is magnetic; when she stands at the mic with her guitar, her eyes move from person to person, making intimate eye contact with every single fan, even if just for a split second. It is evident that this woman has spent most of her life in the spotlight because she certainly knows how to command the attention.

She prefaced every new song with hints about their themes, at one point divulging that Megadeth frontman, Dave Mustaine, is her spirit animal, confessing that, after all, she and Mustaine have the same hairstyle. Her anecdotes made the new material all the more enjoyable, which could have been difficult for a less gracious artists with such a beloved back catalogue. I’ve been to shows before where the artist plays new material, perhaps too heavy-handedly. There’s a fine line between giving the fans some new material to get excited about and inundating them with material that they’re not yet familiar with. Lewis did a superb job of mixing up her setlist with her classics, from Rilo Kiley and her own solo repertoire, and the new stuff.

To her credit, the highlights of the show were clearly the new material, which is so fresh and reinvigorating that you can almost (almost) forgive Jenny for taking so long to release a new album. As she hasn’t actually set a released a date for The Voyager, fans will have to continue to be patient. Also, she pulled out a very special Rilo Kiley treat when she played “A Man/ Me/ Then Jim.” Her encore was enchanting, as her new band stepped out from behind their instruments to sing backup vocals on “Acid Tongue.” She closed out the show with a new song, which I felt was a very risky move. But, as expected, she nailed it, because “She’s Not Me” is such a rockin’ jam.

From what I can gather about The Voyager, it is going to arguably be her strongest album to date. Acid Tongue saw Jenny Lewis honing in on her sound, and this new material sounds as if Jenny will be reinventing that sound in a very retrospective sort of way. Whatever it ends up being, I’m more than glad that she’s back and will be on the look out for more post-album release tour dates;  I will certainly be seeing her again.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]