All hail Jenny Lewis

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Singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis and her band played the Rio Theatre on Wednesday night, playing a fab show in front of an adoring crowd. One of the side effects of playing live for an artist is to give audiences a newfound appreciation for their songs, and that was certainly the case with me. I had already been a big fan of Lewis’s latest album “Acid Tongue,” but hearing the songs in a live setting opened them up for me and pushed the album, in my mind, from good to borderline brilliant.

Lewis, the long-time front woman for the indie band Rilo Kiley, has launched a very promising solo career. As a songwriter, she shows a stunning talent at melody, and her lyrical content regularly goes beyond the obvious and often reaches into a kind of poignant honesty I find breathtaking. To take one example, “Godspeed” finds a tenderness underneath the maddening frustration of loving someone who causes you pain.

Yet, on Wednesday, Lewis also showed she could rock. Her band ripped through many of the jewels on “Acid Tongue,” did a few from her previous album “Rabbit Fur Coat,” plus a new song making its debut in Santa Cruz (which was the first stop on her new tour).

Lewis’s music plays a balancing act with her image, and it’s no doubt much of her popularity, at least with her male fan base, comes from her apple-cheeked attractiveness and her fondness for showing off her legs. She played Santa Cruz in black hot pants and exhibited a kind of flirty self-assurance that kept the guys gaga while her sizable female audience was charmed by her on-stage moxie as well.

The evening started with a 45-minute documentary film of Lewis’s experience in recording “Acid Tongue,” which gave a crowd a quick overview of the songs (and a chance to see Elvis Costello stop by). That was followed by an opening set by the promising Canadian band the Sadies. But it was Lewis that gave the audience what it wanted. Curiously the film has already primed the crowd on the music Lewis was to play later in the evening, and it really had the effect of deepening the songs for the crowd.

For another viewpoint on the Lewis show, and a few photos, go here.

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