Philly feels love as Jenny Lewis brings Joy’All to the Met

Jenny Lewis invites Cass McCombs, and Hayden Pedigo onstage during her set Thursday night

Photos by @a.j.kinney , written by @DJHankHell

Hayden Pedigo

Hailing from Lubbock by way of Amarillo (by morning – ha!), Texan-troubadour Hayden Pedigo double-handedly held down opening act duties for this triple-headed demon dog of a tour ensemble. All instrumental and apparently packaged on his first-ever touring engagements despite a well-notched recording career, the self-described ‘musician, politician and performance artist’ left his pulpit in the lonestar and captivated the leisurely filling Thursday night Metropolitan Opera House crowd with a half hour of bespoke unaccompanied pickin’, strumming us all right into the trance of his ‘primitive American guitar’ soundscapes. Fans of Kevin Barker’s local TMU luminary folk-interpreters Currituck County should take note of this unique offering. We’re certainly glad Hayden slipped Jenny an advanced copy of his latest LP and earwormed his way into her heart (and this tour!) Of note: our photographer for the evening, A.J. ‘Slay J’ Kinney is a HUGE fan of Hayden, and has worked his LP into the opening slots of his death + black metal sets for several weeks now (no joke!) – a fun fact I was more than happy to apprise Hayden of later on at the merch table as he graciously signed one of his hand-stamped compact discs for my lensmen friend. A true talent AND a gentleman! 

Cass McCombs

2nd on the bill came a full four-piece ensemble in the form of singer/songwriter and guitarist Cass McCombs, plus his adroit rhythmic accompaniment of keys (house left), bass (house right) and drums (bringing up the rear). Right off the bat, I got the vibe my mom would dig these dudes’ music – and that’s no slight, my mom’s got good taste. However, after pausing to parse some of Cass’ complex subject matter, I quickly rescinded my decision to put this on ma duke’s next mixtape, pleasantly bemused that Cass falls into the same beloved chimerical category that I place Jenny Lewis’ pre-solo indie outfit Rilo Kiley in: those who encrypt the darkest of lyrics into the brightest of harmonies. Here for it, bud. 

Cass and co. cruised through 8 cuts touching on nearly every cornerstone of his 2-decade+ songwriting catalog, waxing and waning as they went along in both tempo and genre. Later heralded as Jenny’s “Favorite Songwriter Ever” (some high accolades!) I personally enjoyed the C. McCombs experience the most when they were set on full throttle, especially when the audience was treated to Cass’ “ooh, that’s nasty” face, which graced the Californian’s visage nearly every time his keenly-talented (and Ted-Lasso-level mustachioed) keyboardist would let loose on the Juno 60, offset in the pocket on the slower and more soulful side by our left-handed bass plunker whose name I also sadly did not catch. I had an inkling track 3 of the set was going to be a rocker when our faithful skinslapper preemptively removed his overshirt, and my expectations were rewarded with the rollicking ‘Karaoke’ from 2022’s Heartmind, their latest LP and the only album that would see a second selection in the setlist in the form of the precedent – and much less boisterous – jammer ‘New Earth’ which features the picturesque lyrical snippet of “Dinosaurs lumber[ing] down Market street” – is that a mummers reference? J/K! 

By sets’ end, I was won back over to potentially putting my mom onto these guys – but maybe I’ll just burn her the CD instead and leave the liner notes elsewhere. Fans of Gin Blossoms and 90’s alt-era G.G.Dolls may want to dive into the full-tilt side of CmC, when those harmonies are kicking this is as good as anything in the buzz bin. There’s something for everyone here though, and it took me nearly the entire set to figure out exactly who Mr. McCombs was ever-so-vaguely reminiscent of, but I have elected not to print my thoughts on that here 🙂 

Jenny Lewis

At long last the stage began being prepared for our main attraction: Miss Jennifer Diane Lewis (that’s Jenny if you’re nasty). Having been blessed to catch a precursor to this tour at the Xponential Music Festival back in September (huge shout out to my beloved WXPN and Chelter Skelter, the G.O.A.T.s!) I was already semi-familiar with Jenny’s amazing new all-female touring ensemble, and lucky enough to have previewed 3 songs from her newest LP Joy’All for the very first time as the sun set over the beautiful September center city skyline – truly a transcendent night! I teared up a little even! But for this evening the backdrop of our beloved city has been traded in for sparkling red streamers and fringe, the curtain closing on the backline to allow just room enough for Jenny’s signature piano and rotary phone combo at center-stage, flanked only by 3 bare bones microphone stands. Los Diablos Rojos start up over the house sound – ‘Malambo,’ a gift of god (or faith). I am a disciple, and for the past 25 years wherever Jenny performs is my church. Tonight, that church is the red-fringed pit of the Metropolitan Opera House and I am primed for this sermon from her new book of woes and warbles.

9:03 pm – A Modelo and a rocks glass of unknown constitution is placed off to the house- left-hand side of Jenny’s piano by a stagehand (Beverage Manager?). My whistle is wet, the Alessi Brothers blare from the PA. I sip one of my 2 canned beers in anticipation, slightly bummed that I could not purchase a modelo of my own. That would be the truest form of sacrament of this ritual, but nevermind – these pilsners will do for tonight. She’ll be sponsored by them someday, if they’re half-smart about it. Until then…

9:06 pm – 2 large ice cubes are now (acid)-tonged into Jenny’s rocks glass by the very same stagehand – potentially the most important – and blessed – member of this vibe-curating crew. Johnnie Frierson asks me if I Have Been Good to Myself? I remove the packet of jerky squirreled away in my pocket and tongue another piece of the monkey’s paw. “Doin’ my best,” I retort mentally, alone in a sea of audible conversation and singularly focused on the public address system. I close my eyes. 

For the next several minutes Jenny lets the Mermaids Flirt With Me (Logan Ledger), soothes us with Billy Swan’s version of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ and blasts the Met into outer space on Jim Sullivan’s U.F.O. Who needs chit chat when your favorite performer has made you a mixtape?  

9:14 pm – The music auspiciously switches to John Prine – ‘Pretty Good’ with an audible boost in clarity and decibel level as the band takes the stage and the curtain opens – the journey has begun! 

For the uninitiated – Jenny Lewis is touring behind her 5th solo LP ‘Joy’All,’ released June 9th on Blue Note Records (yes, that Blue Note – mmhmm, the Jazz label – yup, the one established in 1939! How effin’ cool!!!). In this author’s opinion, each album and touring cycle of Jenny’s now 17-year solo career should be looked at – and consumed as –  a mental, physical and spiritual journey; transcending mere collections of ‘songs’ and revealing themselves more as chapters in the deepest of diaries. Jenny is the main protagonist in a now two-and-a-half decade stacked series of sardonic storytelling, and to say I have been rooting for her since I’m 16 years old would be a dis-servicing understatement. If Dolly is the queen in my lyrical castle, then Jenny is the songwriting princess. These compositions started off  in a class of their own (See: 2001’s The Execution Of All Things), but by now this catalog as a whole has matured into a truly beautiful beast of burden; trailing the wake of forgotten collusion, open-table trauma, and a healthy balance of upbeat Beck-incited cliché-killers behind it. This is roots-rock refined into diamond; dice tumbled, reracked and rerolled. Her lyrics this go-round range from profoundly introspective and hard-wrought life lessons to light-hearted word play that’s still making her giggle on stage dozens of air-outs deep (truthfully fruitful musical cues, dudes!). She’s a wry wordsmith, a sly songbird and absolute delight to behold, and her performance at the Met on Thursday July 20th was a masterclass in weaving together multiple eras of Jennies into one cohesive – and truly magnificent – narrative. Let’s break down the set!

First off – 2 outfit descriptions to note: Jenny’s bass player – hailing from Philadelphia – is rocking a full Phillies uniform much to the delight of her hometown audience. I am loving this era of being able to claim a piece of the band!! But forefront on my mind is Jennifer’s supremely stunning yin-yang ensemble of a stage outfit tonight – split down the middle in stark black and white contrast, only her belt and the fringe from her sleeves alternating in color. Curled up lil brown cowboy boots and a complementary red-fringed guitar strap complete the ensemble, she is a vision in gaucha. This version of Jenny is truly, truly, truly a rebel; All-American Made as prophesied and hand delivered right before our very eyes. It’s been an actual literal joy watching this album cycle unfold as she moved herself to Nashville, TN (my favorite city on this earth) assembled her brilliant backing band and created this all-bets-are-off album combination of Jennyfied big-room bops and country-leaning honky-tonk chug-alongs, replete with resplendent steel-drenched solos. She really seems to be having the time of her life with this cycle, and she deserves all the joy that a puppy and a truck can bring someone (and that’s a lot, y’all! In fact, we ALL do!! Go get you one or both if you have the space, time and means – I know I aspire to and Jenny clearly agrees!!)

Kicking off this particular Philadelphia trip with a series of cuts from 2014’s The Voyager, Jenny Lewis jumped right in to some of my all-time favorite stinging singalongs on “Just One Of The Guys” and “She’s Not Me,” alternating with fresh takes on “Do Si Do” (from 2019’s “On The Line”) which featured remarkably stunning lap steel work from Jenny’s ever-shreddin’ lead guitarist, as well as another lead voyage on “Late Bloomer,” both tunes receiving new life in the live setting from Miss Lewis’ freshest touring ensemble – potentially already my favorite ever (!?)*

By track 5 in the set we are finally bordering on Joy’All territory – in the form of the title track – and Jenny takes to her trusty (and adorable) little mini-platform to provide true frontwoman duties for this newest chapter’s namesake. Her happiness is palpable as she sings the words to this dark-turned-bright communal therapy session of a song, and I have to wonder if her recent [surprising] stint opening for Harry Styles on his arena tour – and all the new (and very young!) fan converts I spy in the crowd – didn’t have something to do with her impetus to pen this cut. It’s certainly a scorcher worth the deep dive, and seeing her do a joyful little dance and spin around while doing spirit-fingers singing, “We get a little bit wiser every day” truly brings a smile to my face – I love this for her! 

The set barreled on with 3 fan-favorites from her last 2 records (a radiant Red Bull & Hennessey and the double-header [lol, had to] of Heads Gonna Roll and Head Underwater – the latter my big Jenny jam, y’all!) before returning right back to joyous territory. Introed as Jenny’s personal favorite on the album (and my personal 2nd if you care), ‘Apples & Oranges’ is an absolute standout tune both on the record and in the live setting. An excellent choice for the setlist next and one I did not get to hear in Camden, though I will hope to hear from here forever onward! This was backed by ‘Cherry Baby’ which saw Jenny tossing cherry chapstick into the crowd (and getting a surprise 3 pack replenishment tossed back by someone who came prepared!), and was as seductive a tune as they come for sure, especially her slyly cooed lyrical interpolations… Oh, Jenny, Jenny.  Not to be outdone, J. Lew capped this come-hither heartbreaker with an incendiary rendition of ‘Little White Dove’ that stopped me dead in my tracks – I haven’t seen her feel a tune that deeply in a red hot minute (’I Never’ comes to mind…), and when she drops her guitar (or keys) and focuses solely on that microphone I don’t know if there is anyone else on this earth who can hold a candle to Jennifer Diane Lewis in the spotlight. I might be slightly biased though!

2 more standouts from Joy’All would follow – album opener ‘Psychos’ which complimented her stage outfit perfectly and saw even more phenomenal lap-steel stylings (cannot get enough of it, folks), followed by the happiest anti-suicide track of the Summer y’all ‘Puppy & A Truck!’ This cut, of course, was preceded by a phone call (on the line) from Jenny’s jokester pup Robert ‘Bobby’ Rhubarb, who also graces the artwork of her latest LP as well as the majority of her new merch line (collar and leash included, kids!) We. Love. Bobby. Rhubarb!!!

The 15-song main set sped towards conclusion with a rambunctious ‘Lust For Life’ rendition (not Stooges but Girls’) which gave us a fun 2 minute glimpse into what an alternative universe Jenny Lewis fronted N.A.F. style punk band might be like had she stayed in NYC and not rode the bull into TN. That all evaporated quickly into a cloud of haze from her Acid (salad) days, as she ultimately closed out her set (twice!) with tunes from 2008’s Acid Tongue, first the main set with the titular track and later her 3-cut encore with the ever-so-fun ‘See Fernando,’ eschewing 2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat for the evening all together. No complaints here though, as the fiery finale also kicked off with an amazing cover of Rilo Kiley’s ‘With Arms Outstretched,’ and then featured what looked like an on-the-fly audible called by a delighted-by-the-response Miss. Lewis to call back out both openers to the stage for an it-takes-a-village 6 minute rendition of Cass’ ‘Dreams-Come-True-Girl,’ which featured Jenny filling in the Karen Black vocals from a freshly printed lyric sheet that I’m pretttttty sure the stage manager made materialize within 2 minutes of Jenny whispering into his ear. Give that man a raise Live Nation, because I would have been non functional. Full recording of that performance provided here by as steady as a head as I could provide at that point:

The whole set was an absolute treat as always, full of new sounds on old songs and 5 fresh doses of cosmic Kool-Aid. Well worth the price of admission, and the newest offerings absolutely dominated with this band just perfectly honed for delivering the goods on the fresh cuts while kickin’ up fresh dust on the old ones. I’m happy I made the decision to grab a ticket for the Anthem D.C. performance as well, and I’m certainly hoping Miss Lewis makes the trip back around the tri-state area soon. A 10/10+ concert all around – our thanks to the staff at the Met! Follow your Joy, ya’ll!!

“Buy the ticket, see the show.”

You can purchase Joy’all on Yellow Cassette Tape (as well as a variety of other formats if that’s your thing) right here:

*Hank has seen this version of Jenny’s band 3 times now, and Jenny herself well over 40 times in 25 years, and feels qualified to make this assessment. You can find Hank spinning John Prine, Jenny Lewis, Waylon and Willie on vinyl at the Brickette Lounge every month and occasionally writing things and making art. Book him to spin your country western/indie event, review your record or tape, or come to your show and write nice things about you (whenever possible). Full disclosure: Hank holds Jenny in an esteemed echelon of female singer songwriters only flanked by Miss Parton herself, and has eagerly already pitched an all-Jenny-Lewis-themed vinyl DJ night to the booker at International Bar (home of Honky Tonk Heroes) and Johnny Brenda’s (home of Hank’s Tom Petty tribute night “Have Love Will Travel,” which is due for a repeat performance soon). If this is something you’d be interested in, feel free to follow him at @djhankhell     

Editor’s Notes:

Currituck County link:    

Rilo Kiley link: ‘The Execution Of All Things’

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