Juliette & The Licks at Lee's Palace, November 3. Tickets: $15. Attendance: 450. Rating: NNNN
As one of the quintessential actors of the 90s, Juliette Lewis is best known for her role as a dimwit slash victim (Kalifornia) with a slutty side (Cape Fear), a slutty sinister side (Natural Born Killers) or a badass side (From Dusk Till Dawn). Yeah, she's had other roles, but those are the ones that spring to mind. Then there was that totally underrated Starsky & Hutch remake. And guess what kind of character she played. If you guessed dimwit, you win a prize.
So the role Lewis is playing now is that of rock chick, and guess what? She does it unbelievably well. Way better than I would ever have expected in a million years. Lewis rocks the hard rock. Rock hard. Who'da thunk? And her band isn't bad either.
Lewis's unabashed acknowledgement of Iggy Pop as her guru could be a little worrisome. Show me a music journalist who isn't imitation-Iggy-Popped out and I'll show you a rookie fresh out of college. Given the number of bad Stooges wannabe bands out there, you can see how this could be problematic. But she pulls it off, right down to Pop's pigeon-strut posture swooped back, ass stuck out and pointing lunges. Very, very funny.
The band plays fast 'n' loose punk rock 'n' roll. Tunes have plenty of repetition and jump-around bass lines. Unfortunately, Lewis's vocals often got lost in what was a pretty crappy sound mix, but what did come through proved that, unlike, say, oh, I dunno, let's say Iggy Pop, she can actually sing. Her voice is pretty strong and has one of those sexy rock rasps to it.
Lots of words got drowned out, so mostly I caught repeated choruses like "You're so amazing!" and "The seventh sign of lo-ove!" stuff that doesn't exactly illustrate the social consciousness some attiribute to Lewis's lyrics.
There was, of course, a cover of Search & Destroy, and a sexy rock ballad that's actually pretty good. The Licks do give a fine performance. It's a bit of smoke and mirrors, though. Fact is, Lewis is a fiery, electric stage presence, what with the jumps, kicks and hair all a-flailing. She drips attitude, and it doesn't hurt that she's damn cute and that similar rock chicks out there can be counted on one hand.
The woman has cojones, which she proved when executing a scary front-flip stage dive that made squeak, "Holy shit! She could've totally hurt herself!" to no one in particular.
Not sure that these same tunes would hold up on the stereo alone, without the visual element. They're not exactly works of heartbreaking genius or staggering originality. Then there's the fact that Lewis still plays a bit of the "I'm a total idiot" card, which is just plain offputting. "So what am I supposed to do?" she asks at one point. "Am I supposed to introduce the next song? Do I tell a story? I dunno!"
And I'm like, "Shit, bitch. What are you asking us for? That's your job. You're onstage. You entertain."
For the most part, she does.