Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On Kweller and Blitzen

Those who attended Saturday's Roots & Rock Sessions Live at the Oval in Stuyvesant Town were given two t-shirts, a reusable water bottle, a beach ball, and two substantial sets by Ben Kweller and Blitzen Trapper... all for free!  And if you got there a little earlier, like me, you got something even more special.

My friend and I arrived in Stuy Town a little before 2pm, feeling a bit like spies because technically these shows are only open to Stuy Town residents and their guests.  Using the soundchecking of Ben Kweller as our compass, we found the Oval, a small lawn dotted with sunbathers in the center of the housing community.  After setting the levels and tuning up, Ben left the stage and took a seat at fold-out merch table.  I went over, said hello, and picked up a copy of Go Fly a Kite, his record from this year.  One of my favorite BK songs is "I Gotta Move" from his self-titled 2006 release, and I took a shot at requesting it.  Singing the opening line to refresh himself, Ben responded, "Ooh, we haven't practiced that one or played it in a long time, but we'll see what we can do."  "It's no big deal if you can't; have a good show."  "It's gonna be a quiet set because the neighbors start to complain."  "Great place to have a show then, in the middle of all these apartments," I joked.

And it turned out to be a great place for a show.  Starting out with "The Rules" from the first album of his I heard, 2004's On My Way, he followed it with a pair of tunes from Go Fly a Kite, "Mean to Me," and "Free."  "We're gonna do a song we haven't done in awhile now, and this goes out to Dustin," said Ben, leading to band into "I Gotta Move."  The first line was flubbed, but to no detriment, as Kweller played through and found the words immediately.  Yelling out the lyrics with passion, Ben and band seemed to surprise even themselves, and capped it all off with a searing guitar solo.  Check out a video of the performance below:

"We've got the loud ones out of the way now, so hopefully the neighbors won't yell.  This is an acoustic guitar," informed Kweller, brandishing his Dreadnought.  "Here's another song about getting a move on," he said as he launched into the jaunty "Out the Door."  Highlights included the biographical/geographical "Full Circle," the honky-tonk "Sawdust Man," and Ben Foldsy "Falling."  Kweller's straightforward banter and emotional-over-tonal singing makes you feel like he's one of your really talented friends who's gotten a break but deserves a bigger one.  As a result, everything feels intimate, and it is obvious that he really loves playing music.  The introduction to rarity "Red Eye" says it all: "We're gonna play a blues song because we figure when you're outside in the summer playing to a lawn, you might as well jam some blues."

I hadn't seen Blitzen Trapper since 2008 prior to the release of Furr, so the band I saw then has morphed considerably, two to three members fewer and a deliberate genre change.  Gone are the days of the Pavement-inspired "Miss Spiritual Tramp" and all-out weird "Woof & Warp of the Quiet Giant's Hem."  Hello, CSNY harmonies and harmonica on every song.  That's not to say that I don't like Blitzen Trapper anymore or that they didn't put on a good show; I just miss some of that frenetic energy they used to have when they possibly weren't as trained on their instruments and had to make up for it in strange noises.  Beginning with "Astronaut," they turned a few heads by pulling out a cover of "Hey Joe" from their 2012 Record Store Day release. (If you've followed the band as long as I have, you know that they recorded this back in '08, so it fit into the set pretty seamlessly.)  "Saturday Nite" and new songs "American Goldwing" and "Fletcher" were all standouts, but the big finale and cake-taker was a medley of "Gold for Bread," "Jericho," and "Big Black Bird," the last of which featured a tight a cappella breakdown.  While I don't see Blitzen Trapper going back to their noisy beginnings after the success they've had with this style, it would've been nice to hear something like "Big Adventure," at least to piss off the neighbors.

BEN KWELLER – 07.14.12 – STUYVESANT TOWN OVAL (1 hour, 2 minutes)

The Rules / Mean to Me / Free / I Gotta Move / Out the Door / Full Circle / Fight / On My Way / Sawdust Man / Gossip / Falling / Red Eye / Jealous Girl / Penny on the Train Track

BLITZEN TRAPPER – 07.14.12 – STUYVESANT TOWN OVAL (1 hour, 10 minutes)

Astronaut / Hey Joe / Saturday Nite / Sleepytime in the Western World / Texaco / Love the Way You Walk Away / Taking It Easy Too Long / God & Suicide / American Goldwing > Lady on the Water / Furr / Silver Moon / Black River Killer / Fletcher / Evening Star / Wild Mountain Nation / Gold for Bread > Jericho > Big Black Bird

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