Ben Kweller, The UnicornsCity Limits, Sunday, Aug. 22
Apparently, Ben Kweller is a rock star. I had no idea; for all I knew, he was just a kid from Texas who had a little bit of indie success in Radish, and then released a couple decent solo records. But since his last record, On My Way, it seems he's now a rock star--he has Canadian hipster rockers the Unicorns opening for him, and a girl whose job it is to tape the set lists and guitar cables to the floor. There was even a guy who carefully arranged the guitar cables (after they'd been taped) and lit Kweller's cigarette for him between songs. Now, I know Kweller did some work with Ben Lee and Ben Folds (on a project called--can you believe it?--The Bens), but c'mon.
The Unicorns, who put on an incredible live show, played their lo-fi songs while Michael Jackson gyrated across the wall of TV monitors. It was quite odd; the Unicorns seemed bothered by it as well, and even asked before their last song if the staff could change the video to something with a cougar, or maybe a tiger. They didn't. Kweller's admitted that one of his biggest influences is Weezer, so it seemed hardly coincidental that while the roadies were taping things to the floor, there were Weezer videos playing on those obnoxious screens.
City Limits is a unique venue for Tucson--it has the feel of large-city concert clubs, and they have a lot of rules. I witnessed this scene as I was paying for my ticket: A group of four kids had free passes. The girl taking tickets informed them that, even though it's an all-ages show, the passes are only good if they're 21. The kids protested. The ticket-taker showed them the fine print at the bottom of the passes. She then told them they can still pay $13 to get in. "Fuck that," said one of the girls, and then they left.
The girl made a good call, especially since the Unicorns were pretty much done playing at that point.
The sound engineering was such that any half-decent guitar player would sound good. Kweller played most every song on Sha Sha, his record from 2002, and only a couple of songs from his new album. He also threw in an acoustic cover of "Ice Ice Baby." Loud, Weezer-esque pop songs are always fun, but not really that enlightening, especially on a school night. Despite Kweller's tight jeans and cigarette-lighting roadie, his own musicianship isn't questionable; his songs have a sentimental sincerity that almost makes the rock-star thing make sense. Almost. If only a little more attention was paid to the originality of the songs and less to the production of them.