|Ben Kweller - Bristol, The Fleece - 11th May 2012|
|Written by Russ P|
|Friday, 25 May 2012 05:00|
I've been umm'ing and ahh'ing about whether to go to this gig tonight. I like Ben Kweller when I hear him...but I just don't play his music enough for the songs to become embedded in my head. Which is strange, because after putting on his debut album 'Sha Sha' I suddenly become addicted to 'In Other Words' - and so my mind is made up.
Kweller, dressed in jeans and baseball-style shirt, picks up his Marshall-fuelled SG and tweaks the volume up, and up, and up until he gets the first hint of sustained feedback. Just the right amount he tells the audience before he and his three accomplices rock into 'Mean To Me' - a new song off the new record 'Go Fly A Kite'. The intensity of the band comes as a surprise to someone who is used to Kweller's studio's albums. On album Ben comes across very much as idiosyncratic DIY indie. Tonight they're loud, punky and have the driving rhythmic backbone of a band like Weezer. Kweller ping-pongs between his microphone and his amp raising his SG skyward and screaming into the mic on 'I Need You Back'.
Live he comes across less as a sleepy indie dreamer and more like a punchy poet with the heart of Bob Dylan accompanied by the spirits of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen - comparisons that I never expected to make when talking about Ben Kweller. Though he may be steeped in classic American rock Kweller eats it up and spits it out in his own unique fashion.
Kweller himself may have the flowing locks of Sammy Hagar but he's never in danger of acting the rock star. Between songs his inclusive banter shows him as an everyman who just happened to pick up a guitar one day, write a few songs, which everyone happened to like. After the intensity of the first batch of songs, including an early appearance of 'Wasted & Ready', Ben sits down at the piano and gives us a Ben Folds moment with 'Falling' - another track off his debut. 'Sha Sha', an album which is certainly well represented tonight. 'Gossip' is a new one and is delivered brilliantly with the band providing impressive backing harmonies.
Ben gives a shout out to producer Gil Norton who is in the house tonight and who helped guide him through the lonely process of recording his third album, and 'Thirteen', one of Ben's most personal songs, is dedicated to him. Ben tinkers with his acoustic for one song before deciding that the loss of his plastic soundhole-feedback-stopper is too much for him to bear and he switches back to electric. His spontaneity and comfort onstage doesn't stop here as he occasionally throws out a song from the setlist and puts another in its place, and on another occasion suggests that his guitarist forget about the piano part and stay on guitar duties.
New songs 'Jealous Girl', 'Gossip' and 'Full Circle' blend seamlessly into the set tonight. Even on first listen they're strong enough to hold their own amongst his back catalogue. And it's the boisterous 'Jealous Girl' that starts to give off that Springsteen vibe.
Ben and band top off the night with 'Commerce, TX' but come back on full tilt with the screaming 'This Is War' ending off with 'Penny On The Train Track'. In the hands of Springsteen or Bryan Adams this would become a grandiose finale but Ben has the gift of understatement - a kind of modesty that keeps his songs fresh intimate and fun.
And now here's a strange paradox. I've seen bands that I'm really familiar with and yet have a hard time remembering which songs they played during the set. Conversely with Ben I remember everything. Maybe it was the excellent clarity of sound tonight. Maybe it was Ben's catchy setlist. Or maybe it was both. Whatever it was - it certainly worked.