That Kweller Feller!

Photo by Rich KaneBen Kweller
House Of Blues, Anaheim / Saturday, May 15

Songwriting popster Ben Kweller has lots of love from the teen and 'tween set, and no wonder—the Brooklynite is 23 but looks 12, and is still blessed/cursed with enough little-boy cuteness that all the girls in the HOB would've wanted nothing more than to put Ben in their pockets and take him home to Mom.

And Mom would've approved: Kweller's the kind of nice kid next door parents want their daughters to date, totally unpretentious in his stage ensemble of jeans, Polo shirt, Chuck Taylors and precocious bangs that flutter just above his eyes. He's got lyrics that make the chicks melt: "Oh, sweet darlin' girl, so glad you found me, your power surrounds me," which sounds exactly like something to slow-dance to on prom night.

But take away the cute factor, and all Kweller has is his music—which is fine by us because his stuff is brilliant. He's the whole package: lyrics that suggest he's smart, experienced, fucked-up but in a good way; melodies that linger days after you hear them; guitar crunches that keep you from ever getting bored; and enough aural fiddling about to convince you Kweller is Beck's or Jeff Tweedy's little brother, Daniel Johnston minus the mental baggage, maybe even Ray Davies' Texas-born bastard son.

First, though, Kweller's a rock & roller. He looks as if a good gust could knock him over, but Kweller bounded all over the stage—ripping power chord after power chord—from the opening blast of "Commerce, TX." He slowed only for a midpoint solo acoustic set, in which he showed he can be funny, too, goofing on "Ice Ice Baby" and "Milkshake" like a wigged-out spastic bluesman and the sweet, gentle, weird (well, at least the parts where he sings about killing people with karate) title cut from his exquisite new On My Way disc. He yelled out congrats for a kid named Matt, who was in the house celebrating his bar mitzvah, and at one point, somebody in the crowd could only blurt the obvious back to Kweller: "Your music makes me feel good inside!" Very true—who couldn't fall in love with him? A terrific show, and all the people in the crowd who called their answering machines on their cell phones should have an awesome bootleg of it. (Rich Kane)

Nu-Mark
Detroit Bar, Costa Mesa
Saturday, May 15

Alternately pounding a toy piano and beating a drum machine, Jurassic 5 DJ Nu-Mark on this night managed to avoid the chief weakness of DJ Nation: the inability to put on a decent live show. Nu-Mark kept everybody dancing—or at least waving their hands in the air—while whipping up the beat from relatively slow '60s-style funk rhythms to midtempo hip-hop to a touch of turntablism's frenetic spazz-outs, darting to and from his record stacks to his wheels of steel.

This Detroit gig was the last of Nu-Mark's string of shows supporting his solo mix CD, Hands On. He should have showed signs of fatigue or at least dropped a signal that he wanted to flee to the warmth and safety of his studio. But instead, this turned out to be one of the loosest, highest-energy dates of the tour, said fellow Jurassic DJ Cut Chemist, who had the nerve to tease the crowd by hanging out on the side of the stage yet never venturing toward the turntables.

The show's pace was set by Hands On—some soul/funk rarities mashing into hip-hop with appearances from a few stellar MCs. Nu-Mark broke from the script by mixing Cannabis' bluster over some ethereal Marvin Gaye soul, and then turned on the Brazilian standard "Berimbau." He quickly returned to the program when Jurassic MC Chali 2na hopped onstage to rap during the third quarter of the show, dovetailing with his appearance in the last third of the album. Everybody went nuts for it, as 2na proved once again that his baritone is one of the most distinctive voices in hip-hop. Toward the end of the gig, just as with the album, MC J-Live took his turn flowing to Nu-Mark's beats, and then J-Live took over the turntables. Suddenly freed from responsibilities, Nu-Mark's epoxied look of determined focus dropped from his face for something truly unexpected: a smile, the beaming, gleeful, satisfied look of a man who had just completed a mission. (Andrew Asch)

 
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