The extreme heat of the Granada Theater didn’t prevent a thick crowd from forming near the stage Friday night as Texas native Ben Kweller played the penultimate show of his yearlong tour. I was accompanied by a rather aggressive group of concertgoers, so I found myself in the front row with the perfect view of Kweller’s outfit – a loose-fitting camo tank tucked into tight white pants. As soon as I saw him pick up his well-worn guitar, I knew it would be a good night.
Kweller and his three bandmates started the set off right with “Commerce, TX,” a hit from his earliest solo album. The rest of the show was a pleasant combination of his classics and his newer country stuff off of his latest release, Changing Horses. He explained his Southern sentiment well when he told the crowd that there would be “no more New York for me, guys.” His set did get a bit too country for my taste at times, but the twang of the steel guitar was overpowered by the incredible bass and drums and, of course, Kweller’s signature vocals.
His groovy moves and frequent victorious fist pumps showed Kweller’s rockstar side. Maybe it was the adrenaline rush of being near the finish line of a very long tour, but the band’s energy was unbelievable. They kept the audience going all night, and there was never a lull between songs. Kweller was loquacious, talking to the audience between nearly every tune and inviting us to provide the vocals for many of his more popular tracks. His band, which looked not unlike a grungy teen garage band (yet sounded far better), made a lot of noise for having only four people on stage. (And for those of us who were close enough to see him, the bassist’s outrageous faces were an additional treat.)
The only mishap of the evening came when Kweller launched into “Penny On a Train Track” and snapped a string on his guitar. But the audience had nothing to fear, as he was comfortable transitioning to the piano for the remainder of the set. Though he was limited by the piano, he still managed to rock hard on the plastic ivories until his guitar was fixed in time for the encore. It was an epic, six-song encore, the highlighted by “Thirteen” and “Fight.” The crowd refused to quiet down even for the softer “Thirteen,” but that energy was appropriate for “Fight,” for which the opening band – Jones Street Station (cutest bunch of boys I have ever seen) – came back to lend their beautiful vocals and wild harmonica skills.
Friday night was the first time I had seen Kweller since his 2006 nosebleed fiasco, and I was definitely impressed. He’s a veteran of the music scene at only 28 years old, having played since his Radish days in the early ‘90s. His experience was evident.
Click here for video from Friday’s show.