Friday, November 19, 2010

If you see her, say hello. She might be in Tangier.

Two examples of  ridiculous adult behaviour at a US college.

"Excuse me, can you guys keep the noise down? I'm trying to study."
Never have I been asked such an insolent question before. There was a small group of us at dinner, and we had been sat there for over 90 minutes joking around and having a great time. We were loud, we were boisterous and we were having a blast. Sitting around with friends from around the world and drinking tea is one of the nicest parts of the day, and the dining common is the one place we can do this.

When you turn around and tell me to be quiet when a) you're not studying in the library, or somewhere quieter 2) you don't say please and 3) you have not been sitting as long us, I find your request more offensive, than something I can empathise with.


"You can't fucking do this!" It's not the most familiar sound when I walk up the stairs towards my room, but it's what I was greeted with today. It was followed up by a banshee wail, and the hilarious statements you make when you are too angry to be eloquent. "When the fuck did you plan on fucking telling me? I will fucking kill you. I will fucking stab your fucking eyes out." Some couple was having the most hilarious break-up, and America, being the land of the unsubtle, it was out there for anyone to hear. It produced half an hour of post lunch entertainment that would make any television soup opera jealous. Fantastic.

Rant over.

I saw Ben Kweller support John Mayer in Sydney a few years ago. It was a full band show and I thought his set was outstanding. My friends sat around nonplussed, at that age we were used to music that polarised either end of the sonic dynamics. It was either loud, or soft, and something in the middle was met with mild puzzlement.

As soon as we made it to the Pearl Street Club room, we were met by the sounds of Julia Nunes playing her ukulele and beat-boxing. It was an interesting combination that proved too much for one girl in the audience, who passed-out in the middle of the first song. The set was halted as she was escorted out by her friends, but through the slowly closing doors we saw her hit the ground again. The set continued, with the occasional joke about passing out fans thrown in. It was all light-hearted, but it wasn't long until we saw the flashing lights of an ambulance outside through the club's few windows.

The changeover between acts was quick, the way us fans like it. Ben Kweller came out as a solo performer, equipped with his guitar, capo, occasional harmonica and 1980s heavy metal Dave Mustaine-esque mane of hair. Most of my favourite concerts are this format. The stripped-back and informal way to shows is the most traditional way you can see an artist. In my opinion, building a sonic castle with the basic tools of their trade is more impressive than a theatrical display complete with fireworks.

His acoustic guitar dynamics were occasionally interrupted by a solitary distortion pedal - causing a tonne of feedback - but allowing for momentary shredding.  He jumped between his guitar and piano and encouraged as much audience involvement as possible. He taught the crowd a three-part vocal harmony, invited a bunch of people on stage to shake their keys/sleigh bells and was happy to take requests.

Being Northampton, there were rampaging lesbians dancing and singing all the words. Just for kicks, he played Neil Young's Heart of Gold and upon a request from someone in the crowd, played an old b-side of his from ten years ago...kind of. He forgot the words, and in doing so asked people to go online and find the lyrics. Someone found an old performance on youtube, then gave Ben his phone to show him how to play the song. He managed to get through the second verse, but forgot the next part. By this stage someone had found the lyrics, then passed those along. It was a brilliant piece of improvisation, and reminded me of Bob Dylan's Bootleg 6 show, where he forgets the words to 'I don't believe you', and the audience helps out.

It was a cheeky show, where he poked find at the idea of an encore (though promising to come back out if we all clapped enough). It was hard not to make too many comparisons to Bob Dylan throughout the set given his instrumentation and ability to forget words, but tonight I'll get the chance to do just that.

In the last 18 months I've been going through my Bob Dylan, elevating him from human to deity. I've become enamoured with his films, his books and his records. I've collected some of his bootleg series and even got a graphic novel based on his lyrics (nerdy, I know). No one in the world says 'gal' like him. Now I know he is pushing 70, but this is one of the few chances I'll get to see him. It might not be the ideal early 60's show I would have preferred (or even mid 70's Blood on the Tracks era would suffice), but I'll take any chance to be in his presence. He played in Wollongong in 1998, but I never saw him. He'll be playing Australia next year, but I'll either be here or too broke when it comes around. This is it, this is my Bob Dylan ship coming in.

Ben Kweller - Thirteen
His sweetest piano song done on guitar.

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