“I’m All In”: Jenny Lewis’ Autonomy Celebrated on the 10th Anniversary “Rabbit Fur Coat” Tour

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And I think we’re at our best / by the flicker by the light of the TV set… Jenny Lewis was the formative female singer of my teens. In some part, my dyed red hair is simply an extension of wanting to be her. There are mornings where I still feel like I’m just trying to emulate her style, charm, authenticity. I know that for years my writing tried to do just that. I wanted her wry sense of humor, her sincerity as my own. Jenny made me feel less alone when I was an awkward teenager with unruly curls & strong convictions, and she continues to now. I’m not sure I’ve progressed much beyond ripping Teen People spreads of The Postal Service out to tape along my walls and shopping at vintage stores to find any and every gold dress to mimic her Under The Blacklight fashion. More Adventurous was the soundtrack to every journey to northern Michigan, every drive to Chicago. It’s memories of crying over boys who no longer matter & licking Burnett’s off shot glasses with the girls who still do. I devoured Acid Tongue savagely, ravenously in college. Last week, I was thrilled to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Rabbit Fur Coat. The lush, quiet solo album that made me believe in the importance of articulating my (day)dreams, aspirations. The poetry inherit in finding one’s own voice. They warn you about killers and thieves in the night / I worry about cancer and living right…

Seated in the upper balcony of the Beacon Theater, I was thrumming with energy as M. Ward took to the stage at 8pm. He originally toured with Jenny Lewis and The Watson Twins in support of “Rabbit Fur Coat” in 2006. He was featured on Jenny’s cover of The Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle With Care.” His set was the perfect reminisce as he played a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” and his own original “Poison Cup.” M. Ward’s sincerity has always been the right accompaniment for Jenny’s wit and generosity. While his guitar work is spectacular, it’s the way he bites and chews on lyrics that is most gripping. The sweetness of his words undercut by the rough reed of his vocals. One or two won’t do / I want it all…

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The auditorium reached full capacity as the intermission came to a close and the lights dimmed on the second night of Jenny’s sold-out reunion concert at the Beacon,  where she was celebrating a record that launched her now-expansive solo career.  As I clicked the heels of my silver Chelsea boots, bought earlier this year in partial homage to her and Harry Styles, I sat on the edge of my seat. The set began with “Run Devil Run.” Flanked by the Watson Twins, Jenny came out in a striking red ensemble, holding a candle to echo the record cover, her history in offering.

He forgives you for all you’ve done / But not me / I’m still angry… “The Big Guns” is a different song than it was in 2006. In 2016, Jenny Lewis’ lyrics have gained weight given the passage of time. Jenny admitted last week to Rolling Stone that she didn’t even realize the depth of the album until revisiting it. Rabbit Fur Coat was a brash announcement of Jenny Lewis’ new voice as a solo artist, and forecasted the self-assured and hard-earned persona that was to come. It was the work of a woman who has grown-up publicly and strengthened her voice and her writing on a diverse arrangement of projects.

Despite the aggressiveness of its message, Rabbit Fur Coat is, for the most part, a quiet work of art. “The Big Guns” is assertive in the best way possible, but the rest of the album focuses on lamenting softly, serenely. As a teenager, I gravitated towards the considerable weight of “Happy,” and I still do ten years later. With the passage of time, my concerns, and I’d like to think Jenny’s, haven’t really changed. I’d rather be lonely, I’d rather be free… As an eternally single gal, mostly on my own validity and intuition, I’ve clung to “Happy” for years. It was thrilling to sit in an auditorium awed into silence as we listened to Jenny strum and sing the verses of “Happy”:

But my mama never warned me about my own
Destructive appetite

Or the pitfalls of control
How it locks you in your grave
Looking for someone to be saved and not restrained….

Jenny builds narratives. She was the earmark for my writing as a teenager, and still is. I studied her lyrics in hopes of writing poetry that resonated as much. She creates stories to be inhabited. Lyrically, the songs are filled with friends, foes, and daydreams. Silver Lake is a backdrop, but so is the dust of the open road.  Her movements on stage, her claps and twirls, only add to the narrative. She embellishes her music with the beauty of light, life. The flourishes of her wardrobe enhance the timbre of her voice. Her look is as nuanced as Taylor Swift’s, but imbued with a touch that feels one-of-a-kind.

“You Are What You Love” and “Rabbit Fur Coat” were beautiful to see live. The lights dimmed as Jenny sang, “Let’s move ahead twenty years, shall we? / She was waitressing on welfare, we were living in the valley.” I remember I used to skip “Rabbit Fur Coat,” but last week I sat still, poised, as Jenny took us back in time.

After a short backstage change, Jenny emerged in a black suit with floral appliques to sing “Handle With Care” with the help of the Watson Twins and M. Ward. The cover of the Traveling Wilbury’s classic swelled within the auditorium, everyone clapping their hands and stomping their feet along. When the set ended with “Happy (Reprise),” I was eternally grateful that Jenny still had a voyage left to take us on.

The medley of hits that Jenny performed in the second-half of the night was generous.There were, of course, the recent hits: “Just One of the Guys” and “She’s Not Me.” However, to my delight, Jenny also returned to earlier work. She played “See Fernando” from Acid Tongue and “Silver Lining” from her days with Rilo Kiley. The latter took on new meaning as she celebrated her ten year solo anniversary singing, I was your silver lining / But now I’m gold…

The night ended with a song I played many an afternoon back in my teens. I used to belt out Rilo Kiley’s “I Never” after school in the basement as I updated my Myspace account and picked new AIM away message quotes. I longed to feel the passion Jenny expressed for any of the boys lining the halls of Royal Oak High. Now when I listen to it, I tend to focus on the confessions. As people in the auditorium finally started to leave their seats to stand along with Jenny in pride, we all celebrated the abundance of emotions and experiences as a woman that Jenny admits to living, embracing. I’ve lied, cheated, stolen and been ungrateful for what I have / And I’m afraid habits rule my waking life… If she has taught me anything over the years, it’s the sense of pride one should feel in being “only” a woman.  I’m only a woman / of flesh and bone… Aggressive, coy, depressed, reverent, mournful, fearful. Ultimately, Jenny tells us, a woman can be anything she imagines herself to be.

Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never
Loved somebody the way
That I loved you…

First set:
Run Devil Run
The Big Guns
Rise Up With Fists!!
Happy
The Charging Sky
Melt Your Heart
You Are What You Love
Rabbit Fur Coat
Handle With Care (The Traveling Wilbury’s cover)
Born Secular
It Wasn’t Me
Happy (Reprise)
Second set:
Head Underwater
She’s Not Me
Just One of the Guys
See Fernando
Silver Lining (Rilo Kiley)
Red Bull and Hennessey
Pretty Bird
I Met Him on a Sunday (The Shirelles cover)
The Voyager
I Never (Rilo Kiley)

 

Ashley

About Ashley

Ashley Hull wishes she was a mermaid, but she’s happier she’s managed to find her voice. She currently resides in Brooklyn. If you’re looking for her, she’s likely in front of a mirror applying lip stain while singing Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” under her breath.

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