Jenny Lewis sang bitter songs of desperation with a smile on her face and a bounce in her step at Liberty Hall on Friday.
The former child actress is touring in support of “The Voyager,” a powerful new album that documents Lewis’ discontent in unsettling detail. Yet the sour tone of the songs wasn’t reflected by her gregarious demeanor.
Lewis, 38, flirted with indie-rock stardom as the primary vocalist of Rilo Kiley. “The Voyager,” her third solo album and first since 2008, contains the best work of her career.
She and a five-piece backing band faithfully re-created nine songs from the acclaimed release, an approach that benefited the strongest material but failed to improve the lesser selections.
A moment during “Just One of the Guys” reflected the triumphant tone of the concert. After noting she’s aware of “a little clock inside that keeps ticking,” Lewis lamented that she sees herself as “just another lady without a baby.”
Rather than appearing downcast, Lewis stepped onto a monitor and raised her guitar in defiant acknowledgment of the difficult choices she has made. Many in the audience of about 750 roared their approval.
A riveting performer, Lewis danced like a disco queen on a funky reading of “The Moneymaker” and played the role of an arrogant rock star during “The Next Messiah.”
For much of the evening, however, Lewis evoked the confessional songwriting and lovely vocals of Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie.
Versions of “Head Underwater” and “She’s Not Me” possessed the gauzy melodies and clever details of classic Fleetwood Mac hits like “Don’t Stop.” A cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street” further solidified Lewis’ nostalgic inclinations.
While Lewis occasionally seems like little more than a talented mimic, a version of “With Arms Outstretched” indicated that she is capable of unique artistic explorations.
The contemplative song emphasized one of Lewis’ primary themes. Noting the relentless passage of time, she implored an acquaintance that he or she “better move fast.” She may be in the prime of her life, but Lewis ponders mortality with the obsession of someone twice her age.
She suggested “there’s a little bit of sand left in the hourglass” during “Head Underwater.” Lewis didn’t waste a single minute of her 90 minutes onstage at Liberty Hall.
Silver Lining, Just One of the Guys, Head Underwater, Slippery Slopes, The Moneymaker, The Next Messiah, Shakedown Street, Pretty Bird, The Charging Sky, The New You, Late Bloomer, You Are What You Love, Aloha & the Three Johns, Love U Forever, A Better Son/Daughter, With Arms Outstretched, Acid Tongue, She’s Not Me.