Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ben Lee / Tim Session - Live 2008.09.26 Webster University, Webster Groves, Missouri

The night before driving up to Chicago for the My Bloody Valentine and Nick Cave concerts, I actually attended yet another concert. Much like last year when my university brought in Mat Kearney, this year we brought in Ben Lee, and I got to work at the concert, mostly blocking cars from entering our street. Getting sworn at because of making people take a two-minute detour is great fun.

Artist: Ben Lee
Venue: Parking Lot E, Webster University
Location: Webster Groves, Missouri
Date: 26 September 2008
Opening Act: Tim Session

Just like with Mat Kearney, I'd never heard of Ben Lee before. I quickly learned that he's an Australian pop musician, but that's all I knew going in. I have no idea what the setlist is, and I could only halfway pay attention to the whole show, so I must give a word of caution that my review can't be considered too seriously; I wasn't an active participant. From where I was standing for most of the night, the sound was bouncing off our parking garage and creating some weird delay, so I don't think I got the full auditory experience (or visual, considering that I was a ways away from the stage). Nonetheless, I'll say a few words about my general feeling about the show.

Opener Tim Sessions played four or five songs. He is a a guitarist and singer, but he has some of that fancy overdubbing and playback equipment so he can record loops live and play different parts or instruments over that all by himself. It's pretty cool, but I think anyone that can do that (that is, buy the whole electronic setup) is kind of cool. He didn't really do anything that out there, but it was fine.

Ben Lee hit the stage after a short break and brought just his acoustic guitar and a fellow keyboardist. He played for something like 75 minutes. With just two instruments and his voice, he wasn't making a big show, but his songs worked pretty well. He's a poppy singer/songwriter, so I think a certain amount of where he's coming from is is pretty uninteresting and dull, but he did a good job of doing what he does. I wouldn't call his music bland, just unexceptional: not much in the ways of surprises, fairly basic structures, fairly constant tone throughout the set. He had plenty of catchy bits and kept things lively, but not much stood out strongly.

I wasn't really enthused about the concert, but it was pleasant. It was music that if I heard it in a store or at a low-key party I wouldn't mind, but it's not the sort of thing I would go for on my own prerogative. I kind of wonder what his album sounds like, but I don't really like many of his guest musicians and famous friends (Mandy Moore, members of Good Charlotte, etc.).

However, I wish I could have caught more of his lyrics, because I heard him mention that one song was dedicated to Yoko Ono. Well, after the show, he invited everyone to come say hello to him at his CD booth, and once I finished my work, he was still over there, so I went up and asked him about the song. Turns out the song is named after and written for Yoko. I said that I thought that was great, since I think everyone unfairly looks down on her, and he said that was the point of the song. I have to admit that I'm impressed.

It helps that he was really friendly, and even though the crowd was fairly small (probably just a couple hundred), he was appreciative to everyone there and seemed happy just to play. I particularly liked that when his main set was over, he told the audience that instead of leaving the stage and coming back, he and his keyboardist would just turn their backs, let the audience cheer for two minutes, and then turn around to play the last two songs. He might do that at every show, but it was kind of fun and he seemed sincere about it. It felt like he had to have made a more intimate connection with the crowd to be able to do that, even if it was perhaps aided by the smallish quantity of people.

Score: C
[Retrospective Score for Tim Session: C+]

P.S. Here's a link to what I'm sure is the only other review of this show out there. (It's from my school newspaper).

P.P.S. It's sad that I thought Ben Lee was a notch better than Mat Kearney but Kearney attracted like four times as many people. Such is the nature of popular music, I suppose. The year before that, though, was Edwin McCain, and I only stayed long enough to see the opener, my friend the talented Ian Fisher. Oh, and this past spring semester we got the Roots (and I worked at that one, too). I'd meant to review that one and never did. I'd give them... a B. Not really my thing, but they did a good job, and that place was packed. People were way into that. And the openers were Illphonics, whose frontman is a charismatic and intelligent figure around my university.

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