Sunday, July 5, 2009

Jenny Lewis Rocks Battery Park

"Saturday.  In the Park..." Jenny Lewis begins quietly; a gentle lullaby that is a striking change after an hour of her rocking and crooning at the River to River Festival.  But suddenly the hundreds of fans scattered throughout Battery Park know where the song is going,  as she continues a capella, "You'd think it was the Fourth of July..."  (Which it was.)

Jenny Lewis and her band seem to be the very definition of musicians.  They rotate instruments, demonstrating a range of skills that is far from common in their contemporaries.  Sure, Lewis is the lead singer and also plays the keys, plus the acoustic and electric guitars, but the other lady of the group, Barbara Gruska, for example, is equally impressive as a backup singer who also rocks on the drums and the harmonica.

The hour long set (as the opening act for their good friends, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band) featured Lewis classics such as "Acid Tongue", "The Next Messiah" and Rilo Kiley's "Silver Lining" plus one or two new songs.  And of course, they pulled Conor Oberst out to join them on one song, at which point he and Lewis pressed their faces together to share the microphone center stage.  

The most impressive thing about Lewis and her band, aside from their obvious talent, is the way that they just make you want to be a musician.  They not only make it look cool and fashionable (Lewis in her typical tight, short shorts), but also, and more importantly, they make it look fun.  That accounts for the energy that rolls off the stage and floods the audience, even one as diverse and sprawling as that on the lawn at Battery Park.  They are, needless to say, excellent performers; just enjoying doing their thing, with nothing to prove.  

At the end of the set, as her piano notes reverberated over the pulsing drums, Lewis raised her American flag, then waved, simply and shyly, and turned and walked off the stage, leaving the two drummers to a solo showdown on the empty stage.  And somehow, her humility and grace made us all proud to be American.   

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