The mock two-page black & white Playbills handed out when we entered the Ryman were a foreshadowing. This night, the last of Jenny Lewis’ seven-show, four-city Rabbit Fur Coat 10th Anniversary Tour would dabble in theater: three costume changes, staged choreography, and two set changes and intermissions. But, when it was all said and done, what won over the sold-out Ryman audience were some of the slickest and most-polished pop sounds that Music City has seen in a while.
The stage was pre-set for the first act with a backdrop of the hotel hallway from the Rabbit Fur Coat LP cover. Missing however were Jenny and the Watson Twins, the subtle but solid singing duo from Louisville, who were billed with her on the record and this mini reunion tour.
After a 40-minute solo opening set by M. Ward (also a musical participant on Coat) in which he was joined by local picker Chris Scruggs, the show had its first intermission. Matt would later play guitar on several numbers with Jenny’s band.
The second act began with Jenny & the Twins harmonizing as a lone trio on Coat opener, “Run Devil Run,” as they shimmied onto the stage holding lit candles. The crack backing band, supported by two lead guitars (one belonging to Nashville’s Megan McCormick) made their way expertly through this agelessly beautiful record. Midway through, mimicking the time needed to flip the record over, M. Ward lead the band through a short instrumental break allowing the three lady vocalists time for the night’s first costume change.
Working her way through Coat, Lewis cleared the stage for a pin-dropping solo run through the title track. Those in the know about the album’s sequence then began to ponder who would fill those extra microphones as Jenny’s Wilburys for her take on “Handle with Care.” (On the record it was Ward, Ben Gibbard and Conor Oberst). But tonight, it was the “where did that come from” surprise of Jimmy Buffett who Jenny billed as “making his first appearance ever on the Ryman stage.” (Turns out that Jenny and Jimmy are friends who are working together on a “Margaritaville” musical.)
Looking flashy enough to be playing the Opry in a bright green jacket covered with marijuana leaves, Buffett nailed the song’s Roy Orbison parts. And for a guy that I didn’t think would be considered Nashville hip, the crowd responded to his appearance as if Roy had come back from the dead. (Their thundering applause was repeated when Buffet came out from backstage to sit in the balcony for the second act.)
During the second short intermission, the stage was reset with a new backdrop themed from album art images from The Voyager, Jenny’s last record. And as billed, she took us through the “past” (two cuts from Rilo Kiley, her popular 90s indie band), the “present”(Voyager cuts, dedicating the title track to Bowie) and the “future” (a new song, “Red Bull and Hennessy” that was perhaps still a bit rough around the edges.)
As good as the Coat set was, the slick new Ryan Adams-produced sound of the Voyager cuts made the night for me. The three opening tracks from that record (all played tonight) are the best one-two-three punch I have heard in a long time. We also were treated to a nostalgic girl group acapella segment in which Jenny and the Twins covered a Shirelles’ oldie in front of one of the vintage Ryman mikes.
Even as early as it still is in the year, it will be hard for 2016 to see a better show. Having seriously under-estimated the talents of Ms. Jenny Lewis, I walked out into the cold Music City air mumbling “Jenny Lewis, where have you been all my life.” I don’t know when I have been recently more spellbound at a show than I was for this one.
I am so thankful that we got to join LA, New York and Philly in hosting this delightful evening of celebration. And Jenny, the stuff you said at the end about us Nashville people being the best audiences and all that—we know we are so please keep coming back!
Rabbit Fur Coat
- Run Devil Run
- The Big Guns
- Rise Up With Fists
- The Charging Sky
- Melt Your Heart
- You Are What You Love
- Rabbit Fur Coat
- Handle With Care (Traveling Wilburys cover with Jimmy Buffett)
- Born Secular
- It Wasn’t Me
- Happy (Reprise)
voyage through the past, present and future
- Head Underwater
- Silver Lining (Rilo Kiley song)
- Just One of the Guys
- See Fernando
- I Met Him on a Sunday (The Shirelles cover)
- The Voyager
- Pretty Bird
- Red Bull and Hennessy (new song)
- I Never (Rilo Kiley song)
- She’s Not Me
Jenny Lewis—lead vocals, guitar and keyboards
The Watson Twins—backing vocals
Mike Bloom—guitar and keyboards
with special guests:
Jimmy Buffett—acoustic guitar and vocals on #9
Tristen—backing vocals on #18