Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ben Lee w/ Cary Brothers, Kate Voegele

by Dave Schaefer

This was one of those shows where The Basement serves as a perfect venue. Sunday night was Ben Lee’s sixth time in Columbus and his second time beneath the House of Crave. The show wasn’t a sellout, but it was close, which made for a great experience. That is, if you were where I was standing, which was right up in front of the stage. If you were stuck back by the bar, you may as well swig your Natty Lite and try to forget that somewhere a few feet away there’s a bit of a concert going on -- because you’re not going to be able to see a damn thing anyway.

The first opener for Ben was a petite little thing by the name of Kate Voegele. I admit to having never heard of the Cleveland native, but after just one song of her too-short, four-song set, I was determined to hit the merch table and pick up her CD. There’s a pop/folk sound to her music that was appealing, heartfelt and fun. Nothing too deep and certainly nothing complex, Voegele won over the crowd by the second song with her personable chit chat and gee-whiz personality. I was really hoping she’d come out with Ben during his set and sing the Mandy Moore parts of the duet “Birds and Bees,” but it wasn’t meant to be. It probably didn’t help that this was Voegele’s first night with the tour.

The ever-popular Cary Brothers was up next. Cary has a following of his own and there were many people in the crowd that were there specifically to see him. He’s an incredibly talented singer/songwriter that has the ability to create a mood with his live music that at one moment is melancholy and deep, yet at the same time isn’t depressed shoe-gazing. He had a lot of fun with the crowd and the crowd had a lot of fun with him, tossing banter at “Frank from Philly” and fans buying shots for Cary’s guitar player who was celebrating his birthday that night.

After a surprisingly short interlude, Ben Lee entered the stage. He’s joined by Nick Johns on this tour, choosing not to do the full-out rock/pop show this go-round, but instead doing a stripped-down, semi-acoustic version of his music.

Ben’s been doing this for a very long time and it shows. He’s completely comfortable on stage and he performs with an ease and simplicity that’s unpretentious. Within the space of the first two songs, you truly believe Ben is a really nice guy. By the middle of the set he’s your friend. Afterward, when he comes out to talk with fans, you believe that your his friend too.

The performance was filled with songs both old and new, from “Grampaw Would” through his new release “Ripe.” The set list taped to the floor in front of his mic had more than 60 songs on it. He’s “going with the flow” with this tour -- playing whatever strikes him whenever it strikes him. The only caveat is that he tries to lump them together -- ones that require Nick on stage, and those that don’t. It gave the evening a fun, haphazard and organic feel. You knew you weren’t getting the same exact thing as wherever they played the night before.

Ben has such a huge bevy of songs to choose from that he doesn’t typically have standards that he plays. However, that’s changed over the course of the last three tours. “Catch My Disease” is now a standard during the “encore” (I’ll explain the quotes in moment) -- his only (and modest) hit from his previous album. The other has become an anthem for both him and his fans -- “We’re All In This Together.” This is the second time he’s unplugged his acoustic guitar, tossed aside his mic, and sang this song with the audience as the final farewell. It creates an atmosphere of unity as everyone sings along and where Ben becomes backup to the voice of the crowd.

But back to that “encore.” This has become his new trademark to end his show. Instead of pretending to finish the set like so many other singers and leaving the stage completely intending to come back and play the final songs on their set list, Ben and Nick simply turn their backs to the audience as the crowd cheers for an encore. In the meantime, they're chatting, pretending to wonder if the crowd will want them back, then in a larger-than-life move, they turn around and act surprised and in awe that the crowd called them back for more. It’s very tongue-in-cheek and very funny.
And that really sums up a Ben Lee show. Hilarious, charming, serious, and most of all, fun.

1 comment:

leoele said...

Not really sure how I stumbled on this entry, but hey I'm here. I went to see Ben Lee and Cary Brothers when they were on tour, but unfortunately it was a few weeks before Kate Voegele joined the tour. Having checked out (and enjoyed) some of her songs before, I was a little disappointed that she didn't make it. Luckily she's doing her own tour now, and I went last week.

I like your description of the concert. I can just picture Ben Lee's grin in my head... Cocky fellow, but he puts on a mighty fine show. My favorite part of the night is when all of the opening acts joined Ben on the stage for an amazing cover of Silverchair's "Straight Lines." They might have done a better job than Silverchair did.

In any case, thanks for the trip down memory lane. Good times.