Last night at Off Broadway, Ben Kweller put on a raucous acoustic show with a DIY vibe which got the audience in on the act.
View a Julia Nunes/Ben Kweller at Off Broadway slideshow (link coming soon)
Though Kweller hasn't been to town or had a radio hit in a few years, the venue was sold-out and buzzing by the time Julia Nunes got things started. Forget elbow-room - there wasn't enough space between bodies to thumb your ukulele if you brought it - and several young women in the front row had done just that. Nunes bopped onstage with that diminutive instrument of choice and launched into goofy yet fully-committed strumming and beat-boxing.
Going in, the question for me was whether this YouTube phenom - a 21-year-old college student from upstate New York who makes videos in her dorm room - could pack enough muscle for a live show. For all of Off Broadway's coziness, it's nothing like the webcam intimacy that endeared her to so many affectionate fans. Yet the dual forces of Nunes' strong voice and a personality bigger than the Internet won the day. Yes, she played cute covers of "Bye Bye Bye" and "Build Me Up Buttercup," but the gleeful crowd knew every lyric to her winking, smirking - yet open-hearted - originals.
Expecting the full-country, pedal-steel sound of his last album Changing Horses, it was surprising that Ben Kweller's stage set-up featured only a piano and acoustic guitar. Every single song seemed to be a crowd favorite, but Kweller kicked off with homespun singalong "On My Way" and slacker exultation "Commerce, TX," during which he used a pedal to occasionally metallize his acoustic. Like Nunes, Kweller seemed genuinely taken aback by the crowd's enthusiasm, and the mop-haired musician matched the crowd in intensity and good humor.
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