Entertainment Music

Wednesday 27 March 2019

Grunge whizz is just a regular dude at heart

Ed Power

Ben Kweller Whelan's, Dublin

BEN Kweller could use a little help. "Does anyone in here know how to fix a guitar string?" the shaggy-mopped songwriter asks, looking a little lost on stage.

"Seriously?"

Even from a grass-roots indie artist such as Kweller, this is arguably taking audience participation to extremes. But then, his fan-base is nothing if not doting.

A volley of hands shoots up and when a volunteer is plucked from the packed room, it's clear he wants to be of assistance rather than wave to his mates in the front row.

Kweller, meanwhile, has settled behind a piano and is tiptoeing through 'How It Should Be', a quirkily plaintive ballad from his 2001 debut 'Sha Sha'.

Recorded when the Texas-raised singer was only 19, the tune is a startling mixture of adolescent naivete and songwriterly sophistication.

Of course, by the time he got around to a solo record Kweller was already a veteran.

At 15, his grunge band Radish had signed a six-figure major label deal, propelling the singer to the status of alternative rock whizz kid.

If his career hasn't quite panned out as he might have hoped, Kweller can console himself that his song-writing has progressed in bounds. A twinkle-toed 'Family Tree' sounds like Ben Folds with all the mid-life cynicism sucked out; while 'Walk On Me' channels heartache and self-pity into something triumphant.

He saves his best song for the encore: 'Penny On The Train Track' is a yearning dirge wherein he likens his bruised feelings to a coin waiting to be crushed by an onrushing locomotive.

"I'll see you all at the merchandise stand after the show for a chat," he adds at the end, sounding less like an alt-rock prodigy than a regular dude who wants to hang out for a while.

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