It was a family affair Wednesday at Jesse Auditorium, and it seemed as though concert headliner Rilo Kiley took that Sly and The Family Stone song to heart, bringing closely connected opening acts Grand Ole Party and Johnathan Rice. Rilo guitarist Blake Sennett produced Grand Ole Party's album and Rice is dating Rilo singer Jenny Lewis.
Sly would have approved of the band's set choice: a backdrop of gold fabric and tinsel tendrils and both colored and strobe lights harkened back to disco's heyday. It was clear that this affair would be rollicking one.
The evening began with Grand Ole Party, a trio fronted by a female drummer/singer with a Karen O haircut, which turned out to be quite fitting. She sang like the lovechild of Karen O and Grace Slick, and the set was marked by slightly funky guitar-work and steady drumming punctuated by her slightly unintelligible yelps and almost-rapping. Jesse Auditorium seemed to overwhelm their sound a little bit, and even though the small crowd gathered at the front of the room bobbed along sedately throughout the set, it seemed as though Grand Ole Party would have been more of a party in a smaller venue.
After a break between sets during which Sting's "Desert Rose" was inexplicably played as the guitars were being tuned, Rice took the stage and began with an acoustic number full of slightly silly non-sequitur lyrics.
He built his band up slowly, adding a guitarist and bassist after the first song and a drummer after the second, building up to a robust, rootsy sound. His banter with the audience was arguably more entertaining than his music: When he wasn't asking for (and receiving) a guitar pick from someone in the front row, he was telling awkwardly hilarious break-up stories and throwing out one-liners. Still, some nice slide guitar by his guitarist and a duet with Lewis were effective at times.
If the revelatory mood wasn't already clear from all the tinsel and colored lights, it was clear when Rilo Kiley took the stage, with Lewis decked in sequins and silver short-shorts and the rest of the band wearing a dapper assortment of bowties, vests and suspenders.
The band opened with More Adventurous' "It's a Hit," the title of which aptly described the audience's feeling about the band's set as a whole.
They were definitely on point, as older songs such as "It's a Hit" and "Wires and Waves" blended seamlessly with new material from Under the Blacklight, despite its decidedly more glammed-up aesthetic.
One of the most impressive aspects of Rilo's performance was Lewis's voice.
Her strength as a singer is not bombast, but instead is rather a more subtly playful swagger that is equally entertaining live as on the band's records. She never missed a note.
The band really got its swagger on a few songs in with "Breakin' Up," introduced by Sennett as a "psychedelic dance number" for which Lewis switched instruments, from guitar to cowbell (she would later play bass, keyboards and melodica.) "Breakin' Up" was the perfect mix of disco glitter and country soul, an uncommon blend for an indie-rock band.
Other highlights included Sennett busting out an electrified ukulele to play "Ripchord" and a version of "Rise Up With Fists!!" (from Jenny Lewis' 2006 solo effort with Kentuckians the Watson Twins) that turned its agreeably melodic country into a full-on funk freak-out.
Toward the end, the set became a little more pensive, and the band closed with the drawling jam of "Spectacular Views."
Rilo Kiley chose a couple of its more quietly bittersweet songs for the encore, playing delicate "A Man/Me/Then Jim" and the lushly urgent "Does He Love You?" before heading off stage for the final time.
Whether fearlessly funky or sweetly sad, Rilo Kiley did not disappoint.
And, yes, the band did perform under a black light, appropriately enough.