Juliette Lewis & the New Romantiques: 2 October 2009 – Bottom Lounge, Chicago

No longer playing with the Licks, Juliette Lewis was in town playing a show with her new band,the New Romantiques, in support of their recent release Terra Incognita. It was with a strong dose of curiosity that I found myself at the Bottom Lounge to see it.

Though I never saw Lewis when she played with the Licks, her intense stage performances strongly preceded her. In that regard she lived up to every word. The new album–which was produced by Omar Rodriguez Lopez of the Mars Volta–is slightly more accessible and pop driven than some of her older material and sounds more polished around the edges; not that any of these subtleties appeared in the live show. There is absolutely nothing subtle about the live show.

Sticking mostly to newer tracks, with a few older ones sprinkled in, the show was aggressive and frenzied, thanks to a sweat soaked performance from Lewis. In fact, this show was really all Juliette. Not that her new band isn’t proficient, but the dynamics of the performance really emphasized the band’s backing status. At times they almost seemed to be looking on with the same intrigue as the audience. To be fair, Lewis’ stage presence doesn’t leave much room to look elsewhere. It was not all a full frontal attack, however, and Lewis and the band did pull back from time to time–especially on “Ghosts” or the heavily blues infused “Hard Lovin’ Woman.” Much like the new album, the show also took on a surprisingly confessional tone at times.

Whenever a celebrity tries their hand at music there is the inevitable question of sincerity in their work. While Lewis and her music are no exception, she seems to have carved out a level of respect that similar transplants could only envy. After seeing her perform live it’s apparent why: she fully believes in what she is doing. Still, I am not quite sure if her performance style is an attempt to exorcise some personal demons or to summon them, but there is something at work. She almost became another animal, demonstrating her old baggage wouldn’t interfere with her performance. While her past recordings are not at the level of her shows, the new album signals that the gap is closing.