“Don’t regret anything I ever did / ’Cause I knew where I’s comin’ from.” – Ben Kweller, “Mean to Me”
With a triumphant new record, Go Fly a Kite, in tow, Ben Kweller kicked off a new tour with Philadelphia, Pa.’s Union Transfer Wed., March 21. Like he says on one choice Kite cut, Kweller has come full circle stylistically, and the night drew equally from his four rock albums (the country-leaning Changing Horses was the only record ignored this night… well, that and Radish’s Restraining Bolt, but c’mon). The set jumped from garage rock to piano pop to country to anti-folk, reveling in the many sounds Kweller has played with over the years.
Pity openers the Dig, though. Union Transfer hadn’t nearly filled up by the time the New York-based rock band took the stage, but it still put on a solid set. While the tunes ended up being a little too mellow in the long run, the Dig offered up some chilled out atmospheric rock for the early birds.
The venue started to fill up once Sleeper Agent started, and everyone was better off for it. This band specializes in amped up tunes, like a Southern rock version of Los Campesinos! or something. Everything this band does comes with an exclamation point. Big guy/gal choruses! Big guitars! Lots of auxiliary percussion! The band’s high energy set got the crowd revved up, especially after singer Alex Kandel jumped off the stage and sang from the floor on the last song.
In recent years, Kweller has shied away from the guitar rock that established him as a solo artist, first with the more piano-heavy Ben Kweller, and even more so with the country album Changing Horses. Opening with track one, side one of Kite, “Mean to Me,” announced that Kweller was back to ripping off gnarly solos. “Mean to Me” went over huge, and set off a string of more garage rock rippers, including “Wasted & Ready,” “I Need You Back” and “The Rules,” that kept the audience singing along.
Kweller and his ace band did a good job mixing in new songs with crowd favorites, and while people clearly didn’t know the words all that well to tracks like “Gossip” or “Jealous Girl,” they still dug these pop rockers. Know what else they dug? Love songs. One dude in a bandana started pogoing for "Falling." "On My Way” and “Lizzy,” the latter of which was dedicated to a fan in a long distance relationship, were quite moving, although “Thirteen” really hit hard. Kweller, alone on piano and harmonica, let off a series of images about his wife, and each one held the crowd in silence.
While the set could have used a few more guitar-heavy numbers (No “Harriet’s Got a Song” or “Time Will Save the Day”), ultimately, the night showcased Kweller’s different sonic detours over the years, revealing a body of work that flows quite nicely. After a final performance of the rollicking “Penny on the Train Track” Kweller bowed out to applause and hit the merch table to meet fans.