Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.
Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

The Sadies + Jenny Lewis: 5 June 2009 – Chicago

Jenny Lewis

The Sadies seemed a curious fit in their opening slot for Jenny Lewis at the Park West in Chicago. Their authentic brand of country and western seems more suitable for a barroom than the sleek confines of the Park West and it also seemed an odd choice to precede the pop coated, watered down country stylings of Jenny Lewis, not that any of this had an effect on the performance. Watching the Sadies live is like bearing witness to a tornado, a sort of freak of nature that pays no mind to its surroundings in forging a path. Regardless of your predisposition to their style of music, they will force you to take note of their musical ability.

The Toronto quintet is fronted by the brothers Good — Dallas and Travis — who both sing while trading lead and rhythm guitar. The band whipped through their set only pausing between songs long enough to thank everyone from the headliner to the venue staff, proving that not only are they one of the best dressed bands out there, but also one of the politest. During the set the band summoned Byrds-like vocals and country psychedelia on the tracks like “Why be so Curious?” and “Anna Leigh”, while Dallas Good dug deep for some baritone vocals on “Stories Often Told”. But make no mistake, these vocal tracks merely add a pleasant change of pace to what the Sadies do best, and that is their instrumental pieces.

Like a good pistol-whipping, it is within tracks such as “Introduction” and “Northumberland West“ where the Sadies really grab an audience’s attention. Some of their instrumentals only clock in at about two minutes or less but they blaze from the guitar play between the two brothers. The highlight of the evening was “Ridge Runner Reel”, a track that is quintessential Sadies. The instrumental consists of the band repeating the same few measures of music a few times over while picking up speed each time until it becomes a full on sprint for the last go through.

While the whole set only ran about 40 minutes, the band managed to cover a lot of ground in that time. The Sadies musical niche appeared to alienate some of the headliner’s younger fans, but it was still near impossible to walk away without a respect for what it is that they do.

Jenny Lewis followed as the headliner for the evening and played to a sold out crowd who adored her every move. To be fair, she does pack quite a bit of charm in her live performance. While I have never been completely sold on her polished pop forays into country and “white soul”, the live performance did add an extra layer to the music. One of her backing musicians, Farmer Dan, who actually opened the evening with his band, helped to add some real kick with his lap steel guitar.

The set opened with “Silver Lining”, a song actually recorded by her band Rilo Kiley on its last release, but the majority of her show consisted of material from her two solo albums Rabbit Fur Coat and the recently released Acid Tongue. She rolled out some audience favorites like “The Charging Sky” and “You Are What You Love” early on in the set and did introduce two new songs later in the set, including one during the encore.

Dressed in jeans, a Jenny Lewis T-shirt, and boots the whole show had the look and feel of an Austin City Limits airing from the late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s, with Jenny in the role of a young Linda Ronstadt or Dusty Springfield. She bubbled on stage with an exuberance that was not expected. Ultimately, she appeared to be enjoying herself to such an extent that she allowed no other option for her fans but to follow her lead.