Last Night: Tiny Sparks Fly at Brendan Benson's Neumos Show (And a Compelling Reason To Hire a Great Opener, Especially on Mondays)

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Brendan Benson played Neumos on Monday, February 15.
When you think of who would make the best opener for an amped-up, pop powerhouse, the last person in mind might very well be Los Angeles' Frank Fairfield. Walking into Neumos, it felt like something in the fabric of time had ripped open and dropped an unsuspecting Fairfield onto the comparatively swanky stage. Looking like an extra member of the Soggy Bottom Boys, Fairfield manically switches between banjo, guitar, and violin during his one-man show, playing front porch foot stompers and mournful murder ballads.

Fairfield's banjo and guitar playing were especially incredible, given how absolutely raw his performance was. One microphone to sing in, one mic on his lap for his instrument, and absolutely no reverb or effects at all. If you focused on him long enough and not on the surrounding audience and confines, the whole "man out of time" aspect of it was especially enchanting. Politely telling quick stories in between songs and shyly accepting the audience applause, Fairfield's old-timey folk was a great contrast to the Benson's slick pop.

Choosing to start his set with "Folk Singer", Brendan Benson--who moonlights alongside Jack White in the Raconteurs--was either showing his wit in regards to the Great Fairfield/Benson Set Change of 2010, or maybe he just chose it because it's a great, riffy rave-up to start out his set with. Either way, it kicked the first show of Benson's West Coast tour off perfectly.

With his floppy mop of hair and three-day stubble, Brendan Benson looks like he has the same wrinkle in time going for him that Fairfield does, but stepped out of the 1970s instead of the 1930s. Benson plays an eclectic blend of some of the best extremes of pop, and I was curious to see how awesomely overblown it would come across live. While his band is pretty charged up and spot on (especially his guitarist, who effortlessly swung from guitar to keys multiple times a song, all while holding down spotless backing vocals and tossing in some shredding leads), Benson plays it fairly laid back and cool.

Never getting too raved up, Benson wears the shy/sleepy/stoned frontman look well, comfortably playing through some of the best hits of his catalog and cordially thanking the somewhat sparse audience for coming out, but never getting too playful or personal with his stage banter. It would've been great to see him get as fired up as the sugar rush of "Spit It Out" (which sent the band into overdrive while Benson kept his cool swagger) or the "should be blasting out of a Barracuda" bombast of "A Whole Lot Better", but the trade off is that Benson's voice sounds absolutely flawless, and golden on every song. He knows his limitations, and his voice sounded totally perfect through every moment of the set.

While there were some disappointing moments ("I'm Blessed" was a total omission from the set, "Tiny Spark" sounded way thinner live than on record, and "Crosseyed" and "Feel Like Taking You Home" weren't really up on my list of songs that I absolutely needed to hear Benson play live), the show was exactly what it promised to be: a no-frills, sweet, and sweaty 70's-esque power-pop time capsule.

 
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