The stage lights go out. For a few suspenseful seconds, the only thing illuminating lead vocalist Jenny Lewis’s face is the flash of countless cameras going off. Her soft, country-inspired voice croons into the microphone as the spine-tingling energy from the crowd floods the room. The guitars kick in. You can almost see the adrenaline pumping through the band members’ veins. Cue wild cheering and applause.
Rilo Kiley Guitarist Blake Sennett peers into the crowd and grins: “It looks like so much fun out there. It looks like a party in the movie ‘The Lost Boys.’”
Such was the scene at Rilo Kiley’s Sept. 8 show at the Sonar Lounge in Baltimore, Md. In the midst of a series of tour dates opening for Coldplay and, in fact, having played with them only the night before at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, Rilo Kiley certainly had a lot to be excited about.
“I Never,” a self-deprecating yet endearing apostrophe to a love interest, marked the beginning of their set. A bold move: with its quasi-slow tempo, the song was not sure to quickly energize and excite the audience. But Rilo Kiley knew what they were doing. Lewis channeled her days as a child star (she appeared in features such as “Troop Beverly Hills”) and acted out the entire song, matching her facial expressions and tone of voice with the lyrics. Meanwhile, the others (Sennett on guitar, Pierre de Reeder on bass guitar and Jason Boesel on drums) gave off the general impression that they were having the time of their lives.
It was nothing less than infectious. The last guitar chord of the song marked high-pitched screaming reminiscent of preteen girls at a Backstreet Boys concert.
The next several songs they played were all tracks from their most recent release, “More Adventurous,” including “It’s A Hit,” “Portions For Foxes” and “Ripchord.” They knew better than to irritate long-standing fans by dominating their set list with only new material, however. A symphonic, triumphant instrumental piece prefaced “The Execution of All Things,” which was warmly embraced by the crowd for its familiarity. All of the harmonies present in the recording were flawlessly imitated live; an impressive feat, especially considering that bands tend to either neglect small details before a live audience or are too heavily affected by the one - or five - drinks they had pre-show.
Arguably, the highlight of the show was when the band unexpectedly launched into “The Frug,” a silly and widely adored song that Lewis described as “old as the hills.” Its frivolous lyrics (“I can do the frug/I can do the Robocop/I can do the Freddie/I cannot do the smurf”) inspired audience members to demonstrate each of the dances mentioned in between breathlessly shouting along with the song.
“With Arms Outstretched” was the first encore, and when the crowd took the liberty of singing the last few repetitions of the chorus alone, it proved to be the most interactive moment of the show. All the energy that built throughout the set culminated in the very last song, “A Better Son/Daughter,” the obligatory angst-ridden teen anthem. The powerful music, evocative of something majestic like an army marching off into the sunset, was overshadowed by Lewis’s ironically sad repetitions of “And you’ll be happy/you’ll be happy/you’ll be happy…”
Jenny Lewis made a remark early on in their set praising the Baltimore crowd for being more fun to play for than the Madison Square Garden crowd: “This is so rad, you have no idea!” she squealed. Clearly, for both crowd and band, the overall rating of the show was the same: “It’s a hit.”