It turns out that you can go home again, especially if you're Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice, it's the last night of your national tour, and you're in front of an adoring hometown crowd. The musical and romantic duo pulled unexpected rarities out of their set-list bag for the occasion, and they appeared happy and even relieved to be back on their own turf.
Singer-bassist Lewis may have been a bit sarcastic when she recited a list of her favorite local clubs (“Jumbo's Clown Room, Cheetah's, Spearmint Rhino. . .”), but she was clearly moved by the large turnout. The Rilo Kiley front woman explained that she and her guitarist/partner Rice had originally intended this side project as an informal, private collaboration and were in a state of wonder that it had taken on such an expansive life of its own.
They began with the breezily surreal pop gem “New Yorker Cartoon” and played most of the songs from their debut album, I'm Having Fun Now. Their voices pealed vibrantly with bittersweet heartbreak and existential longing in the verses, and they sounded even more charismatic when they were blended together in harmony on the choruses.
Fans cheered supportively and with defiant Angeleno recognition when Lewis declared, “Outside of Silver Lake/I am the biggest fake,” on “Just Like Zeus,” which, like so many of the pair's songs, rides along a sugary pop hook, even as the lyrics are complex and twisted.
The swirling S&M reverie “Slavedriver,” which sounds so shoegazer and trippy on record, came off punchier and more garage-y live, but still plenty mesmerizing, with Lewis doing double duty on keyboards and percussion. Another highlight was Rice's wistfully fanged entreaty, “Animal.”
As good as the songs from the first album were, it was encouraging that their new, unreleased tunes were instantly memorable, such as Lewis' rueful lament about trying to be “Just One of the Guys,” which she dedicated to all the girls out there. The couple, backed by a drummer and a second guitarist, also took detours beyond the Jenny & Johnny universe, including Rice's dusty tale of desperation “We're All Stuck Out in the Desert,” Rilo Kiley's “Silver Lining” and Lewis' eccentric ode to daddy dearest, “The Next Messiah.”
The encore was more intimate, with Rice and Lewis returning to the stage sans backup band and strumming a pair of acoustic ballads. The show-closing “End of the Affair” was incredibly pretty and sad — the perfect poignant closure to a wonderful homecoming dance but not, one hopes, a metaphor for Jenny & Johnny's bright future together.