Ben Kweller

OK, so I'm a Ben Kweller (BK) fan and I have been for a good few years. There're plenty of us out there and after last Wednesday's set at North Hobart's Republic Bar, it's safe to say there's now even more! First appearing on the Aussie scene earlier this decade under the collective wing of his namesakes, Messers Folds and Lee as the junior partner of The Bens, BK has expertly carved out his own reputation on subsequent solo tours and dishes up live fare guaranteed to entertain. There was no doubt the bumper crowd enjoyed every minute and there was no doubt the baby-faced singer songwriter did, too.


With his new album, Changing Horses, signalling a distinct shift in genre, there were plenty of muttered words from fans pre-show, many wondering just how well the new truckin' sound would translate live, particularly given BK's more ‘traditional' focus on guitar-driven pop-folk-rock. As it turned out, there was no need to worry. Within seconds of stepping on stage, Kweller had bagged his first cheer of the night with a few simple words: "This song's off an album called Sha Sha". The crowd stepped up to the plate and within a few bars of up-tempo opener Walk on Me, everyone had been spurred into life and any remaining jitters about whether the much-loved back catalogue was going to get a run among the new country-inspired fare had been settled. Yep. The favourites were there all right. But with the band on stage, Kweller's penchant for the unmistakable twang of pedal steel loomed large.


The set list mixed the old and the new seamlessly. Whoever said rockin' tracks like The Rules can't be just as rockin' with a country twist? And this was the real masterstroke! Even those pre-show cynics who ‘weren't sure' about the new sound or who ‘like the old albums better' were drawn in by the Texan troubadour's mix of old and new and his exuberant stage presence (complete with check-shirt, camo muscle-t and white denims any self-respecting trucker would be proud of). As is customary during a Kweller set, the band was relieved midway through the night, giving the main man the chance to revel in the spotlight and belt out a hearty rendition of the unashamedly shout-out-loud Wasted and Ready, another Sha Sha classic.


The quieter introspection of On My Way provided a great chance for the romantics in the room to cuddle and coo and we even saw propositions fly from the front-row. Ducking and weaving like an old pro, BK declined the young lady's offer democratically, called the band back on and made sure they bought him fresh beer to boot. Of the Changing Horses tracks, Gypsy Rose struck a chord with the crowd, rising and falling from chorus to verse and finishing with a roar from the pedal-steel-led four piece. Wantin' Her Again and Things I Like to Do, straightforward tunes by contrast, were proof that none of BK's ability to write simple, catchy songs had been lost somewhere way out west. Revealing yet another string to his bow, the singer-songwriter-guitar-slinger dumped the acoustic late in the set, took his seat behind the keyboard and got all honky tonk for his latest radio single, Sawdust Man and set-closer In Other Words.


Needless to say after a set so engaging, BK wasn't getting away that easily and was soon back on for a lively two-song encore comprised of crowd-favourite Penny on the Train Track and sing-along truckin' song, Fight. And anyone who says they weren't singing along by then are lying!

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