Show Review

Ben Kweller

Live @ The Basement

Brian Ahnmark
The many sides of Ben Kweller were on full display Monday at The Basement in Columbus. Gibson-shredding rock showman? Check. Introspective acoustic strummer? Check. Piano balladeer? Check.

Fan-pleaser willing to stop his show to perform a requested rendition of “Happy Birthday” for an audience member?

Why the hell not?

The 30-year-old Texas native has covered a vast expanse of the popular music map over five solo albums. His most recent record, Go Fly A Kite, is a crisp blast ripe for the live setting. Kweller played six new cuts during his 21-song show, with superlative backing from drummer Mark Stepro, bassist Chris Morrissey and guitarist Rich Hinman.

Opening with the crunchy “Mean To Me” from Go Fly A Kite, Kweller plowed through sneering takes of “I Need You Back” and “The Rules” before a complete sonic gearshift, seating himself at the keyboard for a pair of numbers. The performance of “Falling,” the closer of Kweller's 2002 debut Sha Sha, was particularly moving.

In the blink of an eye, Kweller had a guitar slung over his shoulder for “I Don't Know Why” from his 2006 self-titled album. But then it was back to the keyboard for the aforementioned “Happy Birthday,” delivered full-band style for a young lady's 21st. Kweller also (appropriately) dedicated the next song to the birthday girl: “Wasted & Ready,” his breakout single from 2002.

Mid-concert, the band left Kweller alone on stage for a stellar three-song solo set, including highlight “On My Way,” a beautiful song about redemption. Upon the return of the full personnel, Kweller broke out some oddballs, such as the honky-tonk-tinged “Sawdust Man” and the whimsical “How It Should Be (Sha Sha).” The band took a rare stab at “Free” from Go Fly A Kite, with a self-deprecating Kweller explaining, “We don't play it very often because we don't play it well. I guess we could use the practice!” They could've fooled anyone on this particular night, digging into the thick groove with gusto.

Stylistic variety is a huge part of Kweller's appeal. It also doesn't hurt that he appears to be about the most jovial and polite frontman imaginable – conversing with the crowd, improvising random ditties about tuning, shrugging off equipment failures and complimenting the sound staff – all with an ear-to-ear grin flashing from beneath his mop of fiery hair.

Supporting acts The Dig and Sleeper Agent more than satisfied their contractual obligations, stirring the crowded pit into a frenzied stew of dance. The Dig, a quartet from New York, offered chiming, bass-heavy tunes that were simultaneously bright and droning – an appealing contradiction. Sleeper Agent, a vibrant six-piece out of Bowling Green, KY, continued to build their deserved buzz wave with a deafening set of hyperactive madness. Lead singer Alex Kandel even waded into the crowd to join the mosh pit as the band tore through the entirety of its boisterous debut album, Celabrasion.

Ben Kweller Setlist

Mean To Me
I Need You Back
The Rules
I Don't Know Why
Wasted & Ready
Out The Door
Full Circle
On My Way
Sawdust Man
How It Should Be
Walk On Me
Jealous Girl
In Other Words

Commerce, TX
Penny On The Train Track