Even if you don’t know it, many people reading this newspaper suffers from the same terrible affliction- they attend UR. Though we all know about the great academic side of our beloved institution of higher learning, it is obvious why UR earned the nickname “Where fun goes to die.”
Though there is no cure for this condition, there is hope. The symptoms, which include nauseating boredom and a less than memorable undergrad experience, can be treated by catching one of the several musical acts that, for unknown reasons, actually give concerts here. Though the thought of doing something outside of UR may frighten many in our cloistered environment (who caught Bloc Party last semester?) it could be slightly more entertaining than getting sloshed in your dorm room for the -nth time this semester. Maybe the most worthwhile concert available over the next month is Ben Kweller, who, will appear at the Water Street Music Hall on March 4.
Who is Ben Kweller? Even as a self-proclaimed music buff (though I often fail to actually live up to that claim) I had a difficult time remembering exactly where I had heard that name last. If you’ll remember back to 2003, Kweller trotted the globe with fellow musician Ben Lee and the ever-popular Ben Folds, using the obvious title, The Bens. Upon further research into his murky past, Wikipedia informed me that Ben Kweller was first signed in 1995 when he was 15 and I was eight and was purportedly some kind of fringy alternative rock child prodigy. Of course, with such an auspicious mantle taken so early, Ben flamed out for several years, releasing a series of failed albums.
His first attempts were as the vocals and guitar of two-man band Radish that included friend and drummer, John Kent. He followed up this string of prodigious failures by releasing several even worse received solo albums. But it seems that after about 2002, with release of his 75th (approximately) solo venture, entitled simply and enigmatically “Sha Sha,” Kweller finally got his artistic shit together, lived up to his long standing expectations and created something worth listening to.
Like Edison creating the light bulb, his multiple and stupendous failures have weeded out the bad elements. This has allowed a refinement of a style and focus that has matured into a more palatable groove and created a less caustic and more thoughtful sound. After three critically and mildly commercially successful releases, he is an artist with a full repertoire of casual fan friendly tunes; enough to fill the length of a concert anyway.
Kweller gave a memorable performance at the ever influential and popular Austin City Limits Music Festival (though he was plagued by a persistent bloody nose throughout the set), which, of course, greatly increased his Indie street cred and exposed him to an ever-wider audience.
His newest self-titled album can be listened to through his website and includes the track “Penny on the Train Track.” The song functions as an introduction into the sound that is Ben Kweller. It reminds me of a faster paced and more poppy Bob Dylan (so not really much like Dylan, but it’s as close as I can think of), and appeals to nearly every mainstream alternative fan at some level. If you like Massive Attack, Tom Petty or Willie Nelson, you will more than likely not have your musical sensibilities too badly damaged by checking out this latest release.
Though there is nothing that sets Ben Kweller apart from similar acts, and no special quality that I can distinguish that would make him anyone’s favorite musician, he is worth listening to in free time. And as we live in Rochester, there is simply no excuse not to enrich our dreary lives with both culture as well as (god forbid) some fun.
Burnett is a member of the class of 2010.