I saw Rilo Kiley at the Riviera yesterday and they were . . . I believe the word is . . . rockalicious!
The show opened with Grand Ole Party, a band that vacillates between White Stripes-esque minimalist rock and a funky twist on indie blues. The band consists of guitarist John Paul Labno, bassist Mike Krechnyak, and Kristin Gundred on the drums and vocals. Labno’s guitar is pretty standard, Krechnyak knows how to carry a song on the bass (when they let him), but the band clearly rests on Gundred’s heavy beats and wailing (emphasis on wailing) vocals that beg a Karen O comparison. Unfortunately, Gundred can’t stand up to the comparison. Where Karen O has an overpowering stage presence and the lungs to infuse her singing with not just force but emotion, Gundred just wails her little head off. I don’t think it’s necessarily her fault. She actually sang back-up with Rilo Kiley and she was fine in that capacity. She just plays the damn drums. And whenever anyone does more than one thing at a time, the performance of one if not both things suffers. In Gundred’s case, it’s her vocals. This could be an instance where a band’s studio stuff is better than their live stuff. You’ll also be hard-pressed to find a song of theirs that pushes the three-minute mark (or even two and a half). But they were only the first act.
Then came current-Jenny-Lewis-lover Johnathan Rice, who sounds like he can’t decide whether he wants to be an emo Tom Petty or Jon Bon Jovi. I wasn’t excited when I found out he was opening, and after the first song I knew why. To give you a sample, the chorus to one of his songs (which actually proved to be the one I liked most from him) was:
We’re all lost out in the desert
And we’re gonna die
Wipe the sand and salt
From your blistering eyes
Woooo! The rest of his set was more of the indie confessional magic that made Conor Oberst famous. Bleh. The highlight was when Jenny Lewis came out and sang a duet. Sadly, that was but one song, and there were a couple more to get through before the end. But the end did eventually come. Sigh . . .
Then Rilo Kiley hit the stage and it was magical. They opened the set with More Adventurous-opener “It’s a Hit” and the energy didn’t stop. I wondered how deeply they would delve into their pool of songs. They had a nice mix of More Adventurous and their latest album Under the Blacklight, which, of course, makes sense and they rocked those songs. They played three songs off The Execution of All Things (“Paint’s Peeling,” “With Arms Outstretched,” and a rocktastic “Spectacular Views”), which was, admittedly, more than I thought they would, but only one off Take Offs and Landings (“Wires and Waves”) and none of their early EP stuff. C’est la vie.
These small quibbles aside, the show was great. They played “Rise Up with Fists!!” off Jenny’s Rabbit Fur Coat and even a version of “Ripchord” with Blake on a ukulele and Pierre on a mandolin. Honestly, the whole experience was a little surreal. Rilo Kiley’s been one of my favorite bands for a good three or four years now and this was the first chance I had to see them live. Being that close to Haley from The Wizard and Pinsky from “Salute Your Shorts” was . . . well, I guess I was starstruck. They had my whole attention the entire time they were on stage. They play a great show. If you’ve never heard them, I encourage you to check them out. If you have and you like what you’ve heard, see them live. That’s an order.