September 17, 2010

Bad Math: Jenny & Johnny at the Black Cat

Before I discovered Neko Case, Jenny Lewis was my red head rock icon.  I loved her bangs, her bowties, her bands.  She shone on stage just by being there, and when she opened her mouth, sweetness came out.  Getting to see such a star at a small venue seemed like an impossibility.  But when J Lew jumped on the "she and he band" bandwagon with Jonathan Rice, to form Jenny & Johnny, it became reality, with last night's show at the Black Cat.

I'll offer an opening disclaimer: I had a great time.  The band sounded good, better than most I hear at the BC, and it was an experience seeing someone I once idolized that up-close, and being able to hear her voice from behind the microphone.

But Jenny + Johnny just didn't add up.  

The band burned through the album quickly, starting with Scissor Runner.  Less than forty five minutes into the set they'd covered 75% of J&J territory.  They did so with little crowd interaction, but lots of rich music.  The duo harmonizes very well, though rarely strays from the album sound.  Every once in awhile Jenny made her way across the stage to jam with a guitarist, rocking a bass, and even played some drums on "Committed" (which sounded very La Vie Boheme ala Rent).  She kept things somewhat interesting.

The duo, however, was no Batman & Robin.  Remember Rilo Kiley, Jenny's bigger and better band with a boyfriend?  This doesn't even come close.  It's clear they're trying to even the playing field for both J's: dressing Jenny in a black tee, keeping her quiet, relegating her to singing back-up except for rare occasions... it's Johnny WITH Jenny, and don't you forget it.

And that would've been fine, had Jonathan Rice not come off so... weird.  He basically said the gaggle of girls accompaniment for Acid Tongue "shouldn't quit their day jobs."  He called the audience poor, financially.  He didn't say much else.

I'm biased, I know this.  But you can't have a star like Jenny on stage and not even acknowledge that she's the reason people showed up.  Have some grace!  Seem interested.  And remember who sold the tickets.

Maybe it's incredibly brutal to say, but what's the point of this act anyway?  Jenny doesn't need Johnny.  He is accomplished in his own right, having written Carpetbaggers (originally performing Elvis Costello's part), produced Jenny's Acid Tongue, and composed music of his own.  But the music of J(&J) (maybe more of an album critique) doesn't sound like that of a songwriter who had to tell his tale himself, and needed the PR help of his big name girlfriend.  I just don't really get it.  I like it, but I don't get it.

Editor's note: Okay, I get it... the music is fun!  I wrote that last paragraph in haste.  But they're an odd couple.

1 comment:

  1. It appears that Jonathan Rice transformed his image from cool back-up musician into mid 90’s garage band rocker with an ill-fitting shirt. With his name on the venue, he appeared to try and steal the spotlight with louder vocals sounding a bit louder and practically drowning out Jenny on one song and insulting the very people they invited up on stage. The crowd also didn’t liven up until the first and much overdue song from Acid Tongue was played.
    I was there to see Jenny Lewis and a few more of her songs.