Singer's emotional mix charms crowd

Saturday, February 8, 2003

For a singer/songwriter whose biggest hit is about an obscure, cult-classic dark comedy, Ben Kweller brought a diverse crowd Thursday to The Bottleneck.

Maybe that's because the 21-year-old singer/songwriter has a disarming combination of sincerity -- he seemed genuinely touched by the adoration from the crowd -- and goofiness -- witness the "I'm hooked on oriental drugs" shirt he wore. That mixture makes even lines that seem to come from a junior high English class -- "It starts stopping when it stops stopping" -- sound profound, especially when sung in front of a sold-out crowd.

For someone barely old enough to down the two tequila shots he took during the set, Kweller has a remarkably mature pop sensibility that shines in the perfectly crafted hooks and sing-along choruses of ballads such as "Falling" and "In Other Words."

As talented as Kweller is playing piano on those ballads, he is just as proficient on guitar. Rockers like "No Reason," "Commerce, TX," and "Wasted and Ready" provided the youngsters in the crowd with an excuse to bounce up and down and yell along between Kweller's more poignant numbers.

Along with most of the hits from "Sha Sha," Kweller broke out a few new songs, most notably "Free," which sounded like a Steve Miller rip-off. Kweller freely admitted the influence, though, stating his appreciation of the older artist.

Despite requests from the crowd throughout the entire set, Kweller saved the acoustic "BK Baby" for the encore. The song, a cover/parody of "Ice Ice Baby," was a perfect example of Kweller's charm, as it's hard to dislike anyone who can make a Vanilla Ice song sound emotional and sincere.