Ben Kweller shines; The Watson Twins should sha-sha-shush
The Watson Twins may have soul, but they've got no fever. During their opening set for Ben Kweller Tuesday, the paper-thin identical waifs rattled off a lackluster set with the enthusiasm of an exhumed roadie. They stagnated at midtempo with a rotation of an egg shaker, tambourine and -- oh wait -- a harmonica, backed by a band including an inaudible bass player who looks like he didn't know where he was. The twins are the Carly Simons of this generation -- and we don't need it. It's top-40 mom rock destined to help pleasure people's elevator rides in 10 years' time.
Kweller is in his Bonanza phase, swapping the bar-chord pop rock that set off his solo career for eloquent twang. Even numbers from his first solo release, Sha Sha, were repainted into country tunes, complete with slide guitar. Once the talk of Williamsburg loft parties, Kweller is now seeking out his southern roots in Austin. And having repeatedly graced Austin City Limits, it seems his transformation into indie-cowpoke is complete. His newest album, Changing Horses, proves his new look suits him. "Hurtin' You" was a pep talk about smiles and lack thereof performed with the poise of Loretta Lynn. Ditto for "Old Hat," a ballad about love and accoutrements that showcased Kweller's over-accentuated southern pronunciation.
Halfway through his set, Kweller took post behind a piano, tickling out saloon-style ragtime filtered through his pop sensibilities. At one point, Kweller had one hand on the piano and one holding a harmonica up to the mic, making him the most adorable multitasker in the theater. And when his band disappeared, leaving Kweller for a smattering of solo songs, he proved he is just as entrancing on his own two feet. The audience was hand clapping and enthralled, taking to silly sways and silly smiles. And it was all so Hallmark-ish they could have joined a class action lawsuit for an overdose of mushiness if they didn't enjoy it so much.
His band rejoined for a rendition of "Gypsy Rose." With its multitude of tempo changes, this was Kweller's country "Come On Eileen," moving from rambling fingerpicking to a battering, fast-paced crescendo and back again. It was this moment that most poignantly showed Kweller's versatility. Fast or slow, quiet or loud, entreating to Jager drinking or pining for a girl who ran away from home, Kweller covered this spectrum with equal ease and skill. Whether it will be pop, country or whichever sound Kweller embraces next, judging by the looks of slack-jawed wonder on these ladies' faces, he could be the heartthrob of any genre.