Though many of us do most of our music listening in our cars, our offices and our living rooms, hearing that same music performed live is an undeniably and qualitatively different experience. Sometimes hearing a song performed live can even transform the way we hear it the next time it comes out of our stereos. The impressive performances of two of the three acts that performed last night at the Ogden Theatre sent me back to my music collection to revisit the recorded versions.
Troubadour Nik Freitas opened the evening on an appropriately mellow note, performing a likeable, low-key set of introspective and accessible singer-songwriter fare that was much more successful on stage than it is on record. Though Freitas usually plays all the instruments on his records, he was joined onstage by Rilo Kiley’s rhythm section, who added much-needed dynamics and visual appeal. Though the sunny, stoned quality of many of Freitas’s songs occasionally made him sound like the indie kid’s Jack Johnson, the singer-songwriter held the crowd in his palm with his obvious sincerity and undeniable affability. The warm, slightly raspy tone of Freitas’s voice reminded me of the cracked and well-worn leather of a favorite chair, and made me want to give his latest disc, Sun Down, another spin.
After the relatively sedate set, Delaware’s Spinto Band pumped the energy up considerably. With an obvious love of Brit pop, a weakness for ecstatic vocal harmonies and a stimulant-fueled disposition, the six young men twitched, leaped and hurled themselves through a thoroughly entertaining and nearly non-stop set. These boys have played together for a long time, and the practice showed last night in the tight starts and stops and seamless transitions between songs. The band even played a note-perfect instrumental cover of “Genius of Love” as an introduction to one of their originals.
But it was the energy and obvious sense of fun with which the Spinto Band attacked its songs that made the performance so engaging. Dueling frontmen Nick Krill and Thomas Hughes each brought his own unique and quirky personality to the stage. While the lanky Krill ran in place and flopped his hair back and forth, the cartoonish Hughes spasmed with the high notes and donned a clothes-hanger apparatus that allowed him to play his kazoo (yep) hands-free. This was another performance that was so strong and just plain fun that I’ll have to go back to check out the record again (2005’s Nice and Nicely Done was the band’s first widely distributed disc, but its seventh overall).
Unfortunately, the energy and enthusiasm that the alacritous Spinto Band injected into the Ogden dissipated during the long wait before Rilo Kiley took the stage, and the indie superstar band failed to bring it back. Though the outfit has proven itself competent and capable of writing a few fantastic songs, last night’s performance felt a little flat, a little phony and rather uninspired.
Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett drew on their actor pasts to play the part of major label rock stars, but their performances were far from Emmy-worthy. While the rest of the band played solidly, the stars of the show focused too much on pop posturing. This could have been entertaining, but there wasn’t enough heart or energy in it. Once soulful, tortured and mysterious, the new Lewis could just as easily have been Ashlee Simpson or any other vapid pop princess. The same sense of insincerity and disingenuousness that caused many longtime fans of Rilo Kiley’s twangy early records to dismiss the glitzy pop-rock of the major label debut, Under the Blacklight, drove me out of the theater halfway through the group’s set.
-- Eryc Eyl
Personal Bias: In spite of all that, I’m a sucker for a redhead. Random Detail: While standing outside, I overheard a uniformed police officer say to his colleague, “I’m all for peaceful demonstrations, but we’re not ready.” I can only assume he wasn’t talking about the show. By the Way: Once again, the improved sound system at the Ogden Theatre really blew me away. Kudos to AEG for breathing new life into the venue.