Alternative indie duo Jenny and Johnny hit Dallas’ historic Granada Theater Sept. 28 on their debut, headlining tour. This is, however, hardly the first time the two have been on the road.
Jenny Lewis has two solo records under her belt and a major label record deal as the frontwoman of internationally known indie-rock group Rilo Kiley. Johnathan Rice, Lewis’ boyfriend, also has two solo records, has produced one of Lewis’ solo records and has worked as a session musician with Elvis Costello.
This summer indie-pop sweetheart Lewis joined forces with Rice to create a record under the moniker Jenny and Johnny.
“I’m Having Fun Now” is a rollicking, fun album with boppy alternative rock tunes that are wholly 2010 due to their fusion of different styles of rock and roll. There are flourishes reaching from the Beach Boys to even 1990s grunge pop – a modern rock record. This fusion is no more apparent than during Jenny and Johnny’s live show.
The Granada Theater, built as a cinema in 1946, and became Dallas’ “Best Live Music Venue 2007-2010,” according to D Magazine. The venue doesn’t just bring in indie rock like Jenny and Johnny, but all types of talent, ranging from electro-pop like Miike Snow to the classic Southern rock of Leon Russell.
Jenny and Johnny brought the energy and playfulness found on their record to a new level, opening the show with the upbeat “Committed.”
The couple often shot each other meaningful glances, smiles and even some winking throughout the back-and-forth of their songs’ lyrics. Their affection was contagious: the audience was vocal, but respectful of the duo’s sincerity in the show’s slower moments.
Jenny Lewis has a dedicated fan base, which she garnered through many channels. Rilo Kiley might be where most have taken notice of her, but her work as a child actor in films like “Wizard” (1989) (with “Wonder Years” star Fred Savage) and providing vocals to a seminal 2000s album like The Postal Service’s “Give Up” (2003) has elevated Lewis to hold a cult following. Addressing the elephant in the room, Rice chose to don a Jenny Lewis fan shirt during their concert, pairing it with a custom-made leather jacket with “JOHNNY” carved on the back. Rice’s shirt told the audience that he was a fan of Jenny, too – maybe the room’s biggest.
The sound of Jenny and Johnny’s rock and roll shifted, oftentimes within songs, from 60s pop, to an America (the band) like folk rock and then into 90s alternative rock like the Semisonics.
Jenny brings the sweet, twangy 60s pop with her voice – even donning a black velvet, sweetheart-cut dress paired with a denim jacket.
Rice brings the 90s pop rocks with his raw but equally sweet vocals. The two switched between playing bass, acoustic guitar and electric guitar for different tracks – Lewis even played a small drum set on their song “Switchblade.”
The most fun of the show was the encore. After almost an hour of playing through “I’m Having Fun Now” – including their hit, “Big Wave” – and a few new songs, the band walked off stage. As is custom, the audience cheered until Jenny and Johnny returned for an encore.
“There’s only one problem,” Lewis said. “Our record is only thirty minutes long.” She laughed as Rice picked up the microphone. “So, this can go two ways,” he said. “We can play you new stuff, or old stuff.”
The audience picked “old stuff” and the duo fielded requests from the crowd.
After playing a few songs from Lewis’ previous records, the two embarked on a hauntingly beautiful acoustic rendition of “Love Hurts” (most famously by Nasereth). The song was an interesting and packed choice for two reasons: stripping down the song to a duet of voices and an acoustic guitar gave it weight that it, frankly, has lost; and Rice played Roy Orbison (who also famously covered the song in 1961) in 2005’s Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line.”
They closed the show, fittingly, with an energetic performance of “Carpetbaggers,” Lewis’ duet with Elvis Costello, with Rice taking Costello’s part.
The song fits the duo’s dark playfulness perfectly, and it is even more meaningful since they really do go from town to town. The last lyrics sung by Jenny and Johnny went a bit like this:
I’m a carpetbagger, baby
I’m coming to your town
I’m going to treat you kind
I’m going to rob you blind
I’ll smile all the time.
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