There’s a little bit of magic; everybody has it. Jenny Lewis, who wrote those words, just has a little more of it than the rest of us.
The former Rilo Kiley frontwoman and queen of indie rock returned to “Austin City Limits” on Wednesday with a rapturously received taping at ACL Live at the Moody Theater. Lewis’ last appearance on the venerable show was about ten years ago, so there was a hint of the hero’s return bolstering the evening.
She dressed the part, too. Lewis, who released fantastic flower-powered LP “The Voyager” earlier this summer, was decked out head to toe to guitar in rainbows and stars, looking every bit the psychedelic adventurer. (Instead of a cape: her signature auburn bangs, natch.)
Lewis’ adoring, lipsynching public whetted their appetite on classics “Silver Lining” and “Rise Up With Fists!!” to open the evening, before sinking their teeth into the main course of “Voyager” songs. The singer and her knockout band served up album-perfect renditions of AM radio flavored jams like “She’s Not Me” and “Late Bloomer.” From the good vibes coursing through the Moody Theater, you would never know Lewis was playing new songs. Such is the power of a rabid fanbase.
The theme of the night was coolness, which Lewis sparks off effortlessly. She dealt sly smiles to the audience left and right, flashed peace signs when the mood struck her, and quipped about queso before sitting down at the keys. Lewis is a performer who knows levels, easily transitioning from light pop melodies to tearing up the stage with alt-country aplomb to laying on velvety pain on the torchy “Bad Man’s World.” She shined in subtleties: a serpentine flick of the finger when she sang of golden rings on “Slippery Slopes,” singing “there’s a little bit of fight left in me yet” through a snarled lip on “Head Underwater.”
But if you want to talk about cool, talk about Lewis’ performance of “Acid Tongue,” which closed out the set proper. The band dropped their instruments, circling around a single microphone in the middle of the stage. Lewis took up her guitar at the helm, going full Joni Mitchell as she sang plaintively of liars, cobblers and sweethearts with the softest of hands. Harmonies wrapped around her from behind, and white light lifted her from above. For the first time in a joyous evening, Lewis brought the crowd to complete stillness.
And when she was done, she smiled, shrugged a little shrug, and walked off with a wave.
Miss the taping? Jenny Lewis performs at ACL Fest on Sunday at 5 p.m. on the Austin Ventures stage. She also plays an official late night show Friday at Stubb’s, as well as an engagement at Gruene Hall on Wednesday at 7:45 p.m.