Sunday afternoon at Sasquatch, a long-dormant crush reignited in a few simple chords.
I’d fallen in love with Jenny Lewis at least twice already: First, as a child actress in The Wizard, a 1989 film that featured the debut footage of Super Mario Bros. 3, which I must have rented from our neighborhood Kroger at least a half-dozen times. Then again, years later, as the acid-tongued front-woman of Rilo Kiley. In the former, she was spunky; in the latter, she spat fire.
But the most recent of those two crushes began more than a decade ago, when I discovered her since-dissolved band during my New York internship by way of her Postal Service connection, and dissipated at some unknown point a few years back. What I loved most was her wit, her anger, the kind of pure hate inspired by heartbreak that manifested in the form of cutting lyrics directed at the man standing a few feet away, her bandmate and ex-boyfriend, Blake Sennett1
Sunday, I sat at the top of the Gorge Amphitheatre as Lewis took the stage, my expectations lowered by a trio of recent albums that left me cold. I wanted to be prepared for a swift exit, to go catch Seattle’s own Shaprece when the moment came. I had a plan, which lasted right until the opening notes of Lewis’s first song: “Silver Lining,” track one on, and my favorite cut from, Rilo Kiley’s final album. Instead of waiting at the top, I sprinted downhill. I was in. And I was rewarded for my commitment.
A theory I’ve batted around for years: The guitar solo in the title track from Rilo Kiley’s second album, The Execution of All Things, is the most accurate representation of a breakup in music history.
The story: Through the recording of Rilo Kiley’s debut, Take Offs and Landings, the band’s then-co-lead singers, Sennett and Lewis, were a couple. Before the recording of Execution, they broke up romantically, but kept the band together. And, as she began to take over singing duties almost exclusively, the songs she wrote coalesced around a single theme. Namely, what an asshole he was.
Nowhere is that more apparent than on that title track, four minutes and 11 seconds of pure vitriol wherein Lewis at one point threatens to “murder what matters to you and move on to your neighbors and kids/Crush all hopes of happiness with disease ’cause of what you did.” What did he do, though? What merited this scorn?
I’ve yet to ever see an actual answer2, but I think it’s in the guitar solo. In it, Sennett blends the melody he’s been playing and the one Lewis has been singing into something new, something more honest than either. The moment he stops playing second fiddle to her accusations, he rebuts with the truth, with reverb. But, as is so often the case in situations like this, whatever he’s trying to say goes unheard. Her story is the only one we know.
I spent the rest of Lewis’s set at Sasquatch in the pit, where I was treated to five of her former band’s songs, including two favorites: “With Arms Outstretched” and “Portions for Foxes“. I fell back in love, and decided to give her newest album a second chance. And I still made it to Shaprece, too. But that’s a song for a different Sunday.