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Saturday, 31 March 2012 16:19

Concert review: Ben Kweller (with the Dig and Sleeper Agent) keeps youthfulness bubbling at Off Broadway, Friday, March 30

Concert review: Ben Kweller (with the Dig and Sleeper Agent) keeps youthfulness bubbling at Off Broadway, Friday, March 30 Abby Gillardi
Written by Matt Stuttler
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Ben Kweller and a rocking backing band kept a Friday night show at Off Broadway lighthearted and full of pop hooks.

New Yorkers the Dig took the stage first with laid-back rock 'n' roll. Singers David Baldwin and Emile Mosseri switched up lead vocal duty, allowing a nice mix of songwriting to be displayed from each. Mosseri thrashed about the stage while playing bass, giving the set a burst of passion. Their set had a nice pace, and even with the short set I caught, I feel like they're a band I could see again live in a couple months.

Next up, Sleeper Agent (Bowling Green, Ky.) crammed their six members onto the crowded stage. More poppy than the previous act, Sleeper Agent featured dueling male and female lead vocals. Watching the long hair swinging from every member, I realized that they would make the perfect cast for an episode of "That 2000's Show." Touching on garage rock and Top 40 radio pop, Sleeper Agent rounded the bases on what "it" bands consist of. There was something about Sleeper Agent that I couldn't quite connect with, but maybe that comes with a second listen.

Yelling the lines "You got to scream at the top of your lungs" from the opening track of his most recent album "Go Fly a Kite," Ben Kweller and band dug straight into their performance. "I Need You Back" from "On My Way" (2004) was up next, with all three members of Kweller's backing band taking to their microphones to really fill out the song.

His older material felt dirtier live, which came as no surprise. "The Rules," also from "On My Way," showcased the classic pop rock sound Kweller lived off of until his 2009 country twanged "Changing Horses." Barreling through song after song without pausing too long between songs, Kweller and his band displayed their professionalism.

Kweller at the age of 30 still looks like a teenager with his long curls. With over 16 releases as a solo artist, he kept a nice mix of old and new material circulating through the night. "I Don't Know Why" felt like it had been pepped up with a little style, followed by his 2002 Billboard #29 hit "Wasted & Ready."

For "Gossip" off "Go Fly a Kite," Kweller took to the keys to serenade while the rest of the band left the stage. Full band once again, "Falling" and "Out the Door" shook like boot-stomping music, prompting the audience to clap along. "Full Circle" found Kweller jauntily leaning towards classic country once again, complimented by the forgiving proclamation "Don't judge anyone because everybody comes full circle/I've come full circle."

Donning an acoustic and standing alone on stage, Kweller performed the titular track from "On My Way" without dropping the excitement buzzing around the set. Dylan-esque with his storytelling lyrics, Kweller's persona of a troubadour worked with his style of poppy sun-tinged indie rock.

Throughout the rest of the set, Kweller and his band performed four tunes off "Sha Sha" (2002) as well as "Fight" from "Changing Horses," which stood out as the best live song of the night, with rousing barroom piano and bouncing guitar sheen.

Amidst cries for an encore and chants of "Kweller! Kweller!" Ben retook the stage to play "Commerce, TX" and "Penny on the Train Track" with his band. Kweller complimented the crowd, saying "You guys party hard. Last time I came around with just an acoustic guitar, and you guys still partied hard. We will always come back to St. Louis."

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