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IAN, Media Jeweler, Johnathan Rice (w/Jenny Lewis) And Girlpool At The Echo, Monday December 22nd 2014

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It was my last chance to catch Girlpool’s Monday residency at the Echo, and after all the good things I had heard about the girl duo, including Iman’s review of their debut EP, at #19 on his best of 2014, I couldn’t pass. These residencies turn to be more and more epic every month, with this time again three bands opening for Girlpool, including a special treat with Johnathan Rice and his girlfriend Jenny Lewis showing up unannounced… Girlpool has opened a few times for Jenny, so this had to be expected.

But the two first bands were quite original and unconventional, first there was IAN, a trio from Boston, recently relocated in Los Angeles, and fronted by Jilian Medford, a young blonde with a voice doing some high pitched Betty Boop squeaks, turning the set into a cartoonish and fun ride. ‘This is a song about David Duchovny’ she said before playing their second song and continuing with their unconventional garage rock built around distorted and strange tunes but always looking for big hooks in a disoriented manner. There was excitement among the crowd and a moody poppy explosion on stage with a sort of 90’s fuzzy-grungy atmosphere habited by this tiny mouse voice going suddenly big and screaming or doing harmonies which would stop abruptly. With all the young girls who had packed the Echo, mostly because of Girlpool, IAN and their goofy sad girl anthems were at the perfect place on Monday night.

In contrast, Orange County band Media Jeweler were all guys, but still very strange, probably the most curious quartet of the night, playing some totally disorienting and experimental math rock songs – although I always think I am talking about things I don’t know when I bring up this term. I have no idea where their name comes from but the music had a sort of thorny avant-garde sound, hardly accompanied with any words, but a lot of mechanical weirdness, taking unruly directions and even bringing another quartet of percussion and sax on stage for no more than 10 seconds! What was that? they instantaneously disappeared and it was more of this chaotic maze, a free-spirit-animated stomp ending up into a sort of guitar-bass fight, and the curious scene of their powerful bass player packing up his instruments while the guitarist was still ending the last song. But weirdness is a state of mind.

Johnathan Rice was announced next and if I knew about his relationship with Jenny Lewis, I didn’t expect her to be there for the whole show! What a nice surprise! I remember seeing her exactly 12 years ago at the same place, with her then burgeoning band Rilo Kiley! Then, it was supposed to be a Rice set but it turned into a Jenny and Johnny set (They even did ‘Animal’ and ‘New Yorker Cartoon’ off that album) although nobody was complaining. Rice, who has already put out five solo EP/albums beside the collaborations with his girlfriend, looked part confident part uneasy on stage, he played a few songs from his 2007 album ‘Further North’ (‘We’re all Stuck Out in the Desert’, ‘Further North’, ‘The Middle of the Road’) and his 2013 ‘Good Graces’ (‘Acapulco Gold’, ‘Nowhere at the Speed of light’, ‘Good Graces’) and he got all the help from Jenny on back up vocals we could hope for… I don’t exactly know why, but I always get the impression that Rice is partly suppressing some anger deep inside him when he plays, which can be somewhat sexy in a way,… who doesn’t like a rebel with a face like his? The poppy alt-country songs sounded very catchy, while Rice and Lewis’ voices harmonized very well with each other, especially during the melancholic ‘That Summer Feeling’ that they sang acoustically at the end of the set. The harmonies sounded very familiar… yeah, I can’t say I know Rice’s repertoire, but all these songs sounded very familiar right away, fitting like a pair of old shoes you have always loved, a bit old fashioned in the good sense of the term, warming up your heart and soul… like the instantaneous foot-tapping-sing-along ‘The Middle of the Road’, a song he said he wrote when he was ‘young and bitter’. Johnathan is no Ryan (Adams) – Lewis’ last collaboration – although he has no reason to be, but as Jenny was on stage most of the time, he must have played only a few songs alone, and I was wondering…. can the guy have a real career without his girlfriend always showing up at his side? Jenny ended up the set holding a glass of wine in one hand by the way, and this says a lot about how laid back she was.

When the Girlpool duo finally arrived on stage after 11pm, the Echo was packed to the roof, I noticed a lot of young girls filling the first rows, and many were holding the vinyl they had bought at the merchandize table. I realized at that moment that the girl duo was a real phenomenon, despite having only released an EP. And I totally got it, there was plenty of personality (nice and feisty) and attitude (feminism) there, served by a very efficient minimalism of evocative guitar-bass combo and sweet-harmonies galore… and interestingly enough, one of them is named Harmony! But Cleo and Harmony are a strange little duo, they seem to be the perfect accomplices for a gentle murder – isn’t ‘Jane’ about punching a boy in the mouth with appropriate screaming I am all for that, if I were still 17, I would hold these lines ‘You were born for a reason, share all your feelings/ If you are a Jane, put your fist up, too’ very high in my personal book of thoughts. All their songs were delightful, clever and ultra-funny and all the front row girls were silently watching them mouth closed and eyes wide opened. Is there anything more captivating that listening to these two girls sing cheerfully ‘I go to school every day, just to be made a housewife one day’?

With only a guitar and a bass — can’t you go simpler than this? — these girls have created a voice and clever songs to carry it, it sounds like rebellion with pigtails, and I am saying this all my love for the child hairdo. Talking about hairdo, they covered Radiator Hospital’s ‘Cut Your Bangs’, and it was even more girl power to the vocals. The songs seemed so simple and lo-fi, but like a soundtrack for Juno or the next HBO girl-empowering series, it had this intense and harmonious power over the audience, even during the less joyous tunes like the tainted-in-dark ‘Paint me Colors’… Sincerity and honesty have to be the words that come back in the reviews of their EP,… But I counted only three songs off this EP in their setlist, meaning the girls have plenty more in store. But did I hear this right? Are the girls moving soon to Philadelphia? So more girl power to the east coast I suppose, but does it mean we are stuck with Haim? Los Angeles didn’t deserve to lose you.

Setlist
Plants and Worms
Dear Nora
Ideal World
Cut Your Bangs
Jane
I like that U
Paint me Colors
Harvey
Cherry Picking
Emily
Chinatown

Lots of pictures of the show here



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