LIVE: Ben Kweller @ The 9:30 Club - 10/19/12

All photos by Traci J. Brooks (traci@chunkyglasses.com / info@tracijbrooks.com / www.tracijbrooks.com)

Ben Kweller looks like the kid you’d want to beat up in school - something about the curly mullet or perhaps the jean vest circa 1990 - but would eventually befriend because he’s just so damn cute. Kweller brought his puppy-dog charm and 90’s fashion sense in a solo show to the 9:30 club Friday night, providing enough personality and distortion from his beat-up acoustic guitar to win over even the grumpiest of parents there to chaperone their child’s musical endeavors.

Despite sound issues, Kweller’s opening song sent the bored crowd into cheers as he bounded around the stage, wailing out “Mean To Me.” Barely stopping for breath, he rolled into “Launch Ramp” and “Out The Door.”  Having missed the nation’s capital on his last tour, “I made it a point to play D.C.,” he told the crowd when he finally paused between songs.

Ben Kweller knockin' the 9:30 Club outWith plenty of sing-a-long opportunities in “Hospital Bed” and “Falling,” Kweller kept the audience entertained, as he played favorites and audience requests – including covering Evan Dando’s “Drug Buddy.” Later in the evening, the lack of a barrier between the stage and the audience allowed Kweller to invite the audience to sit on stage and shake their keys as percussion during “Until I Die,” which surprisingly worked out with zero logistical issues.

As he transitioned between guitar and piano and back again, Kweller’s musical chops were at their prime at the piano, with twinkling melodies and glissandos that would make Debussy cry. His somewhat nonsensical yet poignant lyrics (“We danced in the moonlight at midnight / We pressed against back doors and wooden floors / And you never faked it / And frequently we ignored our love / But we could never mistake it”) provided just enough audio ammunition to keep the ear entertained without needing to spare brain power to decipher what he sang.

His fierce guitar riffs and meaty piano chords kept the crowd begging for more, and after two hours he finally called it quits, only to hang out with them at the merch table. Despite flying somewhat under the musical radar, Kweller’s sharp songwriting and energetic stage presence make him an act not to be missed.