Jenny and Johnny's performance at Venue makes it clear who's in the spotlight

It can't be easy being Jonathan Rice. As long-term boyfriend and relatively recent musical partner with Jenny Lewis, he's certainly not the focus of the public's attention. As the vocalist of Rilo Kiley, former child film star, and well-established solo artist in her own right, Lewis certainly made an odd choice teaming up with Rice for the retro-feel duo Jenny and Johnny last year. Their debut LP I'm Having Fun Now is a pop-heavy guitar album, laced with many back and forth harmonies easily capable of creating a fun live show. This feeling was captured in their recent stop in Vancouver.

With Jenny in a long black dress, bass in hand, and Johnny, in a James Dean-feel white t-shirt and jeans, the attention was easily on Lewis from the get-go - and all night, for that matter. From the opening track "New York Cartoon", the band had the crowd in the palm of their hand, with their one-octave-apart harmonies carefully bringing an extra punch to the record's already catchy tracks.

The altogether four-piece, including a second guitarist and drummer, were quite a cohesive group onstage, perhaps drawing from the fact that drummer Jason Boesel is a longtime Jenny collaborator, as the current percussionist for Rilo Kiley.

Jenny Lewis is something to see on-stage, supplying just enough charm to be really endearing, but not too much to come off as over-cutesy in the style of Zooey Deschanel. Slamming on her bass while singing her full-range alt-country-tinged songs make her a far cry from the other actress-gone-musicians of her generation. Rice, on the other hand, despite being quite talented at the guitar, and even being quite capable of pulling his own on his solo tracks, lacks the charisma and appeal to get the crowd rooting for him. Between tracks, the fans would cheer for Jenny, request songs from her solo album, and tell her how good she looks. Even the guy in front of me taping the whole show on his iPhone rarely moved the screen away from Jenny, except for when she'd move over to Rice's microphone stand. Ouch. With Jenny mom-dancing like no other, performing a sidebar drum solo, and belting it out in the high-key on "Next Messiah", Rice hardly stood a chance.

The group's encore saw the rest of the band leaving the stage, with an acoustic Lewis and Rice on stage performing a stripped down version of Lewis' solo track "Silver Lining”, from her album Rabbit Fur Coat. The crowd seemed to get on board with this performance the most, singing the track word for word and often overpowering Jenny herself. But Rice strummed on with his guitar, clearly used to the attention shifting he'd been witness to all evening. It likely didn't help when Lewis had to tell him to change the chord progression.

Opener Louise Burns, and her band the Moonshiners, were a perfect opening act for Lewis and Rice. Dressed in muted colours, they sang a set of melancholy tracks from Burns' debut solo album Mellow Drama. Beginning the set with "Chinook (Sing From The Valley Of Doubt)", Burns put her unique voice on display to the crowd. One of Burns' major feats is culling a group of sharp talents from the city, filling the stage with a fine array of sharp instrumentalists. Though mainly Burns herself performed her album, the live band brought the songs in a new direction, from the sing-songy "Drop Names Not Bombs" to the more pensive "Clean". Standing in a front line like a small army, the Moonshiners were much more than a usual nameless opening act, filling the front of Venue up with interested listeners.

The songs in their set stuck to the same base for a nice cohesive body, but change things up just enough to show some fine-tuned synchronicity. On "Paper Cup", a Tarantino-style guitar-line drives the melody, whereas on "Why Do I Always Feel This Way", Burns herself swaps out her bass for a guitar, on the self-reflective track. The set closed with a new, non-album track "Lodger", offering a nice sample of what's next to come.

//JJ Brewis, 
Arts and Culture Summer Correspondent

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