A moment, late Friday night, perfectly crystallized Jenny Lewis’ particular blend of sweet and sour.
As she brought “Born Secular,” a track from Rabbit Fur Coat, her 2006 collaboration with The Watson Twins (on hand Friday as a superb opening act, and participants in the encore), to its climax, a gentle cascade of rosy pink and baby blue balloons descended from the Canton Hall ceiling.
It was a playful gesture, delighting the sold-out crowd, and set against Lewis singing “God works / In mysterious ways / And God gives / And then he takes / From me.” The weighty and the delicate, the gentle and the rough — it’s a dichotomy animating nearly every syllable the 43-year-old singer-songwriter utters.
Lewis was making her first Dallas appearance in nearly five years, following an October 2014 stop at the South Side Music Hall, in support of her latest LP, On the Line.
Like so much of Lewis’ back catalog, both on her own and as a member of the dearly departed Rilo Kiley, Line traffics in wry, sophisticated pop, tinged with hazy Laurel Canyon sunshine — it’s often snickering to keep from sobbing.
Backed by a quintet of musicians, with only an enormous, color-shifting LED screen behind them, Lewis, clad in a spangled jumpsuit that would not have seemed out of place on a vintage “Soul Train” rerun, spent 90 minutes holding the packed room — Canton Hall often felt on the verge of bursting at the seams Friday — in the palm of her hand.
She wasn’t much for between-song banter (or at least, nothing of note beyond the perfunctory “Hello, good to see you”), but with such devastating and devastatingly gorgeous songs at her disposal, all that really needed to be said was there in the music.
Lewis led off with “Heads Gonna Roll,” the first of many examples of her exquisite ability to marry blunt observation with candy-coated melody: “Heads gonna roll, baby / Everybody’s gotta pay that toll and maybe / After all is said and done, we’ll all be skulls / Heads gonna roll.”
Seated behind a keyboard, a visibly cheerful Lewis delivered the grim line in buoyant fashion, as she would do throughout the evening, pulling heavily from On the Line (“Do Si Do,” “Hollywood Lawn,” “Red Bull & Hennessy” and “Dogwood” were all showcased Friday) but taking care to weave in other moments from her extensive career.
“The Voyager,” the title track from her 2014 album, got a reggae makeover, and Rilo Kiley had its moments to shine, thanks to “Silver Lining” and “With Arms Outstretched,” which provided another of the night’s most riveting moments, with a room full of adoring fans belting the lyrics back at the woman who wrote them.
All of it felt easy and free and pleasurable, basking in music with something on its mind, but an ingratiating way of saying it.
Watching the buzzing room soak it all up evoked the lyric from Lewis’ “Wasted Youth,” heard early in Friday’s set: “Just ’cause you’re young / Don’t mean nothing, don’t mean nothing / We are here and we’re gone / Do something, while your heart is thumping.”
The light found in the dark — Jenny Lewis showed us the way again and again Friday, and we all felt a little better for it.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.