While millions of people were watching beer commercials on TV and praying for their favorite football team to win Sunday night’s Super Bowl, Jenny Lewis and an all-star lineup of guest musicians filled a former synagogue in New York’s Lower East Side for their own form of worship. M. Ward opened for the songstress at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, delivering dusty and weary tunes of longing before a mostly seated audience. With his bedroom vocals filling the venue, Ward played spare acoustic melodies on his steel pedal guitar and harmonica. The occasional surprise collaboration spiced up the stripped down set: My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James added a dose of southern comfort on “Radio Campaign,” while Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst played back-up during Ward’s final piece, “O’Brien/O’Brien’s Nocturne.” “I got a brand new song to show you,” the duo sang in the latter track. “Though it probably ain’t gonna blow your mind.” However, the audience seemed to disagree with the sentiment judging by their enthusiastic response.
Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins began their enchanting set by singing the rafter-shaking “Run Devil Run” down the aisle — wedding march style — under a ceiling lit with simulated stars. Clad in demure black dresses and sporting matching June Carter Cash-style bouffants, the trio joined Scottish songwriter (and current Lewis beau) Johnathan Rice on the darkened stage. Lewis then launched into a spirited version of “The Big Guns,” with the Watson Twins mirroring each other’s moves in the background, whether it was knocking wooden sticks or swaying their hips. “Melt Your Heart” appropriately turned the audience into putty in Lewis’ hands, and the chanteuse confessed her flaws and laid bare her insecurities with an aching lilt on “You Are What You Love.” The crowd was silently captivated during the performance except for the lone fan who shouted “Great album!” — a comment the singer bashfully acknowledged.
The Rilo Kiley vocalist mainly stuck with the material on her new solo record, Rabbit Fur Coat, except for “Paradise” — a collaboration with Whispertown 2000 that appeared on a 7-inch single — and a cover of the Shirelles’ 1958 hit “I Met Him on a Sunday.” Lewis also set down her guitar to perform a new, untitled song. The soulful, twangy number showcased Lewis’ vulnerable vocals, which sounded like an updated version of Dusty Springfield’s soaring delivery. Lewis went unaccompanied while playing the title track of her new release, a haunting lullaby, before exiting the venue down the aisle with the Watson Twins in tow, the way they entered the room, with only creaking floorboards and a tinkling keyboard melody following them. However, the threesome immediately returned to the stage for an encore of “It Wasn’t Me,” with M. Ward accompanying. As a closing prayer, Lewis and Rice then brought the entire temple to its feet by offering “Cold Jordan,” a hymnal about accepting Jesus Christ — a fitting end for their Sunday School of rock.