CAMBRIDGE — A stripped-down version of the indie pop band Rilo Kiley delivered a bare, intimate set Wednesday night, which allowed the group to work out the kinks in new songs from its album in progress.
Armed only with guitars and a keyboard, co-songwriters Blake Sennett and Jenny Lewis enraptured much of the crowd in the sold-out room at the Middle East Upstairs, though the club environment proved a difficult venue for the band’s quiet set.
The simple presentation spotlighted Lewis’s star quality. The former child actress delivered vocals that burst with a mix of sweetness and world-weary sophistication and imbued the lyrics with an emotional resonance that brought to mind musical forebears like Dusty Springfield and Joni Mitchell.
The mood elevated slowly from the delicate set opener, “A Better Son/Daughter,” from the 2002 album “The Execution of All Things,” released on hip Omaha indie label Saddle Creek. The night’s early songs were hushed, and they shimmered with warm, vibrato guitar and Lewis’s faint country twang. Although Sennett’s vocals didn’t have the same resonance, the tougher timbre of Lewis’s voice encircled his nicely, and his offbeat banter throughout the night created a friendly, casual environment. The lived-in texture of Lewis’s voice was brought into greater relief as friend Mike Bloom added another layer of acoustic guitar on the rambunctious midtempo rocker “Go Ahead” from the band’s debut album, “Take-Offs and Landings.”
The transition to new material was seamless, as Lewis swayed from side to side in her seat and blared on a harmonica between hooky vocal melodies. She and Sennett flavored their cover of Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” with cheeky aplomb.
Friends from opening acts Tilly and the Wall and Jake Bellows added backing vocals in “With Arms Outstretched,” which had the audience singing and clapping along. After closing with a pretty, waltzing rendition of David Bowie’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” the band’s short encore ended the night with the spirited elegance of “Spectacular Views.”
Tilly and the Wall wooed the crowd with a spirited set of quirky indie rock, built around a childlike, singalong style and a cantering beat that was kept by a tap dancing member instead of a drummer. The set culminated in a funny, deft cover of OutKast’s “Hey Ya!”