I became a Rilo Kiley fan when I heard “Portions For Foxes” a couple of times on my Launchcast station. I loved that song in so many ways — it became one of my favorites of the year, and when I bought the album, I was delighted to find that pretty much the entire thing was great. I resolved then that the next time they came to Denver, I’d see them.
Well, on Sept. 11th they arrived, at a little theater called the Ogden. Unfortunately, they were touring in support of their new album, which I think is Just Okay. The musicianship is still good, and Jenny Lewis’s voice still sounds great, but above all it’s lyrics that I care about, and in that department this album is bland as bland can be. In addition, they seem to have shifted away from indie rock and alt.country to a more generic AOR sound, with disco accents. Not that there’s anything wrong with that sound, mind, but it’s a little less exciting than what they’d been doing previously. Just about any song on More Adventurous is more interesting than the entirety of Under The Blacklight. Really, any verse of “Portions For Foxes” is more interesting than the whole new album.
So their set was focused heavily on new songs, which made the show a little more blah than I wanted it to be. On the other hand, I enjoyed the old stuff quite a lot, and I thought the band in general sounded great and had a good stage presence. There’s a strong meme going around the rock critic world that Rilo Kiley is the new Fleetwood Mac (my taste seems to be consistent, if nothing else), and while I think the comparison is pretty overblown, I could see some similarities at the show. Blake Sennett is like a cross between Lindsey Buckingham and a movie college professor, essaying wild guitar solos into the crowd while dressed in tweeds and bow tie. And Jenny Lewis may not have much on Stevie Nicks lyrically, but she’s got a great voice and she does play an instrument.
The most exciting part of the show for me, though, was the first opening band, a San Diego group called Grand Ole Party (a terrible name, but whatever.) They set up with a guitarist and bass player on either side of a short drum kit. The woman who sat in the center playing the drums was also the lead singer (using a head mic a la Britney Spears), and wow, what a singer. Her name is Kristin Gundred, and she was like one part Moe Tucker, three parts Grace Slick. Her voice is just astonishing, and throughout their set I kept finding that my mouth was literally hanging open. I even bought their CD at the merch booth after the set, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever done before for an opening band. Gundred herself was selling them, and I asked her if she hears the Grace Slick comparison a lot. She said, “well, I was obsessed with Grace when I was 13-14 years old, so it’s not a big surprise.” Keep an eye on this woman — she’s incredibly talented, and if there’s any justice in the world, she’s going to be a big success. (Assuming she doesn’t somehow self-destruct, that is.)