benkweller-neumos.jpg
Dave Lake
Ben Kweller

Saturday, April 28

Neumos

At 16, Ben Kweller and his band Radish released their major label debut. Though it failed to

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Ben Kweller Is Loose and Light-Hearted at Neumos

benkweller-neumos.jpg
Dave Lake
Ben Kweller

Saturday, April 28

Neumos

At 16, Ben Kweller and his band Radish released their major label debut. Though it failed to catch fire commercially, their alt-rock hit "Little Pink Stars" was catchy and of the moment, and no less a Nirvana rip than anything Bush or Stone Temple Pilots were up to. And besides, Kweller was still in high school. How trailblazing were your high school art projects?

Now aged 30 -- and still looking 16 -- Kweller is five records deep into a solo career, his latest of which, Go Fly a Kite, brought him to Neumos on Saturday night along with Sleeper Agent and Noah Gunderson. And even though the derivativeness of Kweller's material hasn't changed much in 15 years, he's developed into a likable and talented songwriter who is adept at channeling his favorite songwriters, be it Ben Folds, Gram Parsons or Paul McCartney. But power-pop isn't really a genre that pushes the envelope anyway. Nada Surf and Fountains of Wayne pay their respects to Big Star and The Beatles record after record, but the trick is putting your own stamp on things, which Kweller does via some nice arrangements, some pretty melodies and honest, straightforward lyrics.

Looking shaggy, blonde bangs hanging over his eyes, and dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and vintage Air Jordans, Kweller and his three-piece band were loose and light-hearted Saturday night, throwing a few extended guitar solos and some arena rock tricks into their pop-rock songbook. After a particularly rambunctious jam, Kweller threw up a pair of metal horns, revealing the depth of his influences may run deeper than his songwriting hints at. Kweller isn't a great guitar player but he's got heart, and it was hard not to get caught up in the fun the band seemed to be having on stage.

Kweller swapped between electric and acoustic guitars during the set and even spent a few minutes at the electric piano, singing a handful of ballads while his band took a break. And it was nice to get both sides of Kweller in the same show: the troubadour and the bandleader. At the piano, the opening chords of "Thirteen," a sweet song about first love, aroused a chorus of "awes" from the female-heavy crowd, who sang along with each verse -- at least until he forgot the words midway through, which the audience was quick to remind him of when he asked for assistance. As he stood to grab his acoustic guitar, Kweller sniffed a pink flower that was atop his piano, eventually peeling off a leaf and dropping it into the sound hole of his acoustic. "This is a flower from Kurt's house," he said, before strumming the opening chords of "On My Way."

Kweller's smart not to take things too seriously, but he isn't slight either. And if he isn't challenging his audience at least he's consistent. Though there are uneven spots on his records, the live set is the ideal showcase for Kweller since he can pull the best moments from each album, presenting a solid body of songs that are as much fun to hear as they are to sing along to.

Bowling Green, Kentucky's Sleeper Agent supported, and singer Alex Kandel was greeted by "show us your tits," which may not be the most endearing way to welcome a band to the stage. The band shrugged it off, playing through a high-energy set of songs from their major label debut Celabrasion, which merges The Strokes with Karen O. Local singer-songwriter Noah Gunderson opened, accompanied by his sister Abby on violin, and the pair's twangy folk songs and gorgeous harmonies started the show off on a high note.

 
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