I never got to see Rilo Kiley live, and now I probably never will. This is my own fault.
It is my own fault because even though I was a concert-going person while they were still active, I did not really find out about them until 2008 at which point it was too late.
In general I separate things that happened before 2005, which were more or less out of my control, and things that happened afterward where I should have known better and I could have done something. So because Rilo Kiley was still touring during that period of time, I could have done something but never did. I am eternally late to the party.
There are a number of reasons why not having seen them live bother me, even more than with other bands. For one I had Jenny Lewis's excellent first solo album, but I did not "understand" it at the time. Really I did not understand it at all until after I fell deeply in love with Rilo Kiley.
Also, despite having seen Jenny Lewis perform solo a few times to diminishing returns, Rilo Kiley as a unit will never (or at least probably never) exist again. Even though I also never got to see Sleater-Kinney, both Wild Flag and The Corin Tucker Band sort of make up for that. Jenny Lewis solo is a completely different thing from Rilo Kiley.
Moreover, I have recently come to realize that my love for a band can only be complete until I see them live. I almost universally enjoy seeing music performed live to the recorded version and so in many ways I think I cannot truly appreciate a band's music until I see them play live. I think this is why seeing a band for the first time, especially after years of listening to their albums, is one of the most exciting things I can do. It means dragging myself to see Hikaru Utada long after my J-pop listening days are over, or paying $75 to see The Postal Service cash-in on fan's pent-up nostalgia.
But that is probably never going to happen with Rilo Kiley, and I only have myself to blame.
II. Plane Crash in C
The first time I seriously listened to The Execution of All Things, I was really struck by how raw the songs felt. The first three songs in particular feel unstable but not to the point of being fragile. They feel like they are is on the cusp of going off, in a flash of anger and sadness, and only barely holding it together.
It was probably the first time I have ever felt this kind of emotion, one I am otherwise very intimately familiar with, from a song. The Execution of All Things was released in 2002 when I was at the height of my teenage angst; I cannot help but think I would be a completely different person now.
Their first album, Take-Off's and Landings, has this feeling in spades as well. Everything feels like it is just about to fall apart at any moment.
As usually happens with these things, the third album More Adventurous is a lot more confident. The only songs that really speak to me in this way are "Does He Love You?", a ballad sung from the perspective of a mistress to her lover's wife, and "Ripchord", a song written for Elliot Smith after his passing.
The fourth album, Under the Blacklight, is polished and pretty and making a practiced face into the mirror. The songs have hooks and you can dance to them, all notable things for pop music, but the whole thing feels hollow to me. It feels like maybe the kind of album one would make after going to rehab, getting clean and trying something new. I like it but do not love it.
I fully recognize that bands must grow and cannot continue making the same music forever; that no one in their right mind would want to remain in the headspace of the first two Rilo Kiley albums indefinitely, but I still feel attachment to them.
III. I Remember You
This year Rilo Kiley put out a compilation, Rkives, of older songs and material. It is a pretty random assortment of songs, you can tell why most of these got left off their respective albums or were shelved until now. It hammered home the idea that there is never going to be any more from the band; that I should be grateful for what they have given me.
It always seems odd to me how the music-consuming culture either slavishly follows the newest music, immediately forgetting about anything more than a few months old, or worships albums made more than 20-years ago. For years I have felt guilt about my obsession with any album that came out during my lifetime because it was not old enough to be any good or fresh enough to be of the moment. But no more.
The Execution of All Things is my Blood on the Tracks and Take-Offs and Landings is my Revolver. I worship these albums along with the others from their time (Castaways and Cutouts, Illinois, Let's Get Out of This Country to name a few) because ultimately they hold an incredible amount of meaning to me. When I listen to them, I am reminded of every emotion they have ever evoked in me, from the first time I listened until this very moment. And that has value, it not worth nothing.