Rilo Kiley Takes the Intimate Vibe of Early Shows with Them on Road to Success

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:: Rilo Kiley :: The Back Sheep :: May 18 ::
 :: Ogden Theatre :: May 19 ::

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By Andrew Clayman

Like the inevitable twist in an M. Night Shyamalan film, Rilo Kiley’s recent commercial breakthrough should have come as no surprise to anyone who’d been paying close attention. As far back as the band’s 2001 debut Take Offs and Landings, singer Jenny Lewis was already seeing herself in “Pictures of Success,” and rightfully so. This is a true Hollywood band, after all, fronted by two former child actors (Lewis and guitarist Blake Sennett) and based out of the same Silver Lake neighborhood as alternative titans like Beck, Eels, and Elliott Smith. If they’d wanted to, Rilo Kiley probably could have skated into the mainstream on savvy and sex appeal alone. But thankfully, they chose to become one of the finest pop bands on the planet first.

“It’s still exciting,” said Pierre de Reeder. The longtime Rilo Kiley bassist was strolling along a pier in San Francisco and talking to The Marquee, one day after kicking off the latest tour in support of the group’s fourth album, Under the Blacklight. “The nerves are still there, too, especially when we jump into a first show like last night here in San Francisco, in front of one of the biggest crowds we’ve ever played to. A first night always has that excitement and energy. It’s never old hat,” said de Reeder.

Of course, playing in front of a rapidly growing fan base is always a helpful way to maintain one’s enthusiasm. Over the past year, the success of Under the Blacklight (not to mention Lewis’ equally popular 2006 solo album Rabbit Fur Coat) has opened up an entirely new chapter in the Rilo Kiley story — one which has seen them follow former Barsuk labelmates Death Cab For Cutie on the path from indie cult status to major label super-stardom.

“Well, certainly it’s been a huge difference,” de Reeder said. “When we first toured for Take Offs and Landings, we were playing shows for literally 20 to 30 people — which is fun, too. But clearly, with larger crowds and the size of the venues, there are big changes.”

When Rilo Kiley signed to Warner Brothers and started nabbing bigger gigs, de Reeder admits he was concerned that the band might lose a lot of the personal connection it had with its audiences.

“You know, at the smaller clubs, we used to be there, walking around and mingling, manning the merch table, that kind of stuff,” de Reeder said. “And you do lose some of that to a certain extent. But, it’s exciting that, in a lot of ways, we’ve been able to bring a lot of that energy and intimacy of the smaller clubs with us to the bigger places.”

Onstage, de Reeder, Lewis, Sennett, and drummer Jason Boesel haven’t changed their approach too drastically, despite the bigger crowds and bigger budget. On the current tour, in particular, de Reeder said the band is having fun digging into the back catalog, playing the old tunes “pretty true to form.”

Such news would seem to defy the arguments of those who claim that the “new” Rilo Kiley has abandoned its classic, indie-country-pop leanings in favor of the funkier, considerably slicker sound of Under the Blacklight.

“We have a strong drive not to repeat ourselves, while still letting ourselves be… ourselves,” de Reeder said. “I think that’s manifested itself in a lot of our career — with the label hopping and the songs staying eclectic, and even with people exercising their musical diversity and doing their own thing.”

de Reeder thinks that the success of Lewis’ solo work and Sennett’s side project, The Elected, is actually good for the health of Rilo Kiley. Without those outlets, the tension that emerged after Lewis’ and Sennett’s much-publicized breakup may have led to the band’s demise, as well. Instead, the beat goes on, with Sennett churning out some of his strongest riffs, and Lewis’ sweet and sultry voice sounding more assured than ever before.

“The future is unknown, as always,” de Reeder warned. “But that’s kind of a cool thing about this band. You just never know what’s next.”

:: Rilo Kiley ::
:: The Back Sheep :: May 18 ::
:: Ogden Theatre :: May 19 ::

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