Jenny Lewis’s showmanship is on full display at D.C.’s Atlantis


Jenny Lewis doesn’t shy away from contradictions. At once vulnerable and untouchable, her country-glamour aesthetic reflects her double life: She splits time between Nashville and Los Angeles. Her music, too, tightropes the line between glitzy country pop and 1970s California soft rock. Jenny Lewis, it seems, can do it all.

Maybe that’s why the singer-songwriter didn’t seem out of place Friday evening on the tiny stage of the Atlantis, 9:30 Club’s new tribute to its original location that caps attendance at 450. Though Lewis shines in stadiums — she opened for Harry Styles’s 2021 megatour and on Saturday played the 6,000-capacity Anthem — her superstardom is more apparent up close, a refusal to shrink her charm to fit a venue where guests nearly piled out the door.

There’s something cinematic about the way Lewis performs, and not just because she was a child actor (“The Wizard,” “Troop Beverly Hills”). She was eager in opener “Silver Lining,” a celebratory breakup song from her days fronting indie outfit Rilo Kiley, and outsize and glamorous as she glided into “Red Bull & Hennessy,” her silky voice insistent. Her dancing, too, was entrancing, perfectly punctuating the mood of the moment alongside her well-timed frowns and sly smiles.

Her banter with the crowd was full of inside jokes, as she mentioned her cockapoo, Bobby Rhubarb, and blessed the Modelo she sipped between songs. And her professionalism never wavered, even when a huge balloon knocked out her mic’s connection for a chorus.

Lewis is on tour to promote her new album, “Joy’All,” released in June. Its title comes, she says, from her unwavering belief in the pursuit of happiness — an acknowledgment that joy isn’t a given, but something worth striving for. It’s especially poignant wisdom from Lewis, who has spoken of her share of life’s misfortunes. “If you feel like giving up, shut up / Get a puppy and a truck,” she crooned over a bass-driven beat reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel.

Many of Lewis’s older tracks pull from folksy narratives. In “Acid Tongue,” her phenomenal all-femme band dropped their instruments and lined up behind her, adding gorgeous harmonies to an already heartbreaking song. “I went to a cobbler to fix a hole in my shoe / He took one look at my face and said, ‘I can fix that hole in you.’” It was in these tense moments that the crowd contracted, trance-like.

But Lewis has earned some clichés after five solo albums, four bands and 25 years of making music. She has said that some of her new works came from a virtual writing camp led by Beck and that one prompt was to write a song using only clichés. The result was “Love Feel,” which name-drops country greats (and Justin Timberlake), Tennessee whiskey and Pontiacs.

That it was her final song in the encore felt like a moment of freedom from the heavier themes that define much of her music — proof that the multifaceted artist still has depths to explore.


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