Acoustin ‘Rilo’ sounds rich

Matt Siblo

It’s quite rare when both your heart and head are on the same page, but if ever such a cataclysmic combination could exist, it most definitely would be the pairing of my not-so-platonic love for Jennifer Lewis and my great appreciation for her band, Rilo Kiley. It is this undying passion that drove me (well, the passion didn’t drive me, my friend Ashleigh did) to trek all the way out to Hoboken on a Tuesday, due to the curious absence of a Philadelphia date for the band. If Jenny wasn’t to come to my city, I figured, What better way to express my love than to travel out to New Jersey? If going to New Jersey on purpose doesn’t express sentiment, I don’t know what does.

Acoustic performances aren’t usually my cup of tea. As I’ve expressed on frequent occasions, a lot of rock-and-roll just doesn’t work when it’s stripped down to its bare bones. The fundamental essence of stupidity in rock-and-roll can generally work through highly amusing and distracting techniques as distortion pedals and self-indulgent solos, but take that away and it’s anybody’s game. And while the idea of letting the audience see the wizard behind the curtain should frighten most rock bands, unfortunately it usually doesn’t. Call it stupidity or naiveté, but most bands jump at the chance of sitting down with some candles and “mellowing out” acoustically.

What they don’t seem to grasp, however, is how ridiculous and unnecessary this process is and how foolish they seem by openly inviting the audience to realize how ridiculous their lyrics are or the simplicity of their musicianship via the acoustic guitar. I personally blame Dashboard for this alarming ongoing trend, but then again I also squarely point the blame of the Exxon oil spills, the Iran-Contra scandal and the partisan nature of the U.S. government on Chris Carrabba, so I might be a tad biased.

With all that said, Blake and Jenny of Rilo Kiley does the concept of the acoustic set some fine justice. The two played mostly off their Saddle Creek debut “The Execution of All Things,” with a few covers and new songs thrown in as well. The new songs sounded exceptional, although the direction of the songs is hard to pinpoint in such a stripped-down setting. Their covers, which included takes on David Bowie’s “Rock and Roll Suicide” and Robert Palmers “Simply Irresistible,” were also quite on point. Jenny and Blake had great chemistry as a duo, although Blake seems to have taken to a Crispin Glover haircut. This made it hard to take him seriously, and ignited a barrage of Marty McFly and Biff Tannen comments from me and my companions.

The set’s highlight was undoubtedly the campfire sing-a-long “With Arms Outstretched,” which has quickly become Saddle Creek’s answer to the long forgotten trend of “We Are the World” joint endeavors. All of the bands performing that night joined the band on stage, which included members of Neva Dovina and Tilly and the Wall for what was one of the most entertaining collaborations since Chevy Chase and Paul Simon in the “You Can Call Me Al” video.

By the end of the evening, I had come to a number of conclusions. One of them was that a girl tap-dancing could make an interesting substitute for drums as Tilly and the Wall so aptly demonstrated. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that Rilo Kiley’s ability to rock could transcend amplification boundaries, a feat not often achieved. But ultimately, I also came to the somewhat discouraging fact that Ms. Lewis and I will probably never rendezvous at a dimly lit coat check, but that’s a whole other article in itself.