Last Night: Ben Kweller at Walter’s on Washington

Ben Kweller
Walter’s on Washington
August 17

Better Than: Trying to understand why anyone takes dating advice from Mystery on VH1’s The Pick Up Artist.

Download: The super catchy “Penny on a Train Track” or, for more lovin’-touchin’-squeezin’ types, “Sundress”

Even though I knew I was going to Walter’s on Washington to see baby-faced Ben Kweller perform, I was half-expecting a gore-fest, something closer to GWAR. For those who haven’t heard, Kweller developed a nosebleed during his 2006 Austin City Limits festival performance, dripping blood all over himself, his guitar and his piano before shoving a tampon up one nostril and declaring, “ If you don’t care I don’t care, I’ll fucking bleed to death in front of you.”

I grabbed a $3 Lone Star and made my way to a spot in the sold-out venue where I would be protected from any possible blood spewing. Once we had our eyes checked by opening act Tim Fite – he actually projected an eye chart onto a screen and attempted to hype up the crowd by having us spell out K-W-E-L-L-E-R – fans were given a much-needed break to get ready for the Texas native.

Photos by Chris Loll and Sophie Rosenblum

Pushing through different sections of 15-year-olds, I went to check out the merchandise table, complete with a larger-than-life headshot of Kweller looking like a mix between David Cassidy and Danny Bonaduce circa 1972. I laughed to myself, but was blown away when the dynamic Kweller arrived on stage around 11 looking adorably patriotic in a Picasso-style blue and white striped sailor shirt and tapered red pants.

Showcasing his copious musical talent, he began on guitar then switched to piano, where he played several pieces before going back to his Gibson. The audience was smitten during his performance of “Family Tree” from debut album Sha Sha, but despite some slow dancing in the crowd during “Red Eye,” Kweller’s ADHD-generation fans looked slightly bored during several remarkable guitar solos. Somewhere between Tom Petty and the Beach Boys, Kweller gets away with his flirtations with the lighter side of rock – at times almost outright sappy – because of his solid music foundation and genuine sincerity.

“We’re not gonna do an encore tonight. We’re just gonna do three more songs,” Kweller told the room. He gave off a little edge by saying, “That’s some bullshit, but that’s the rules,” and with just a hint of cheese added, “You want us to show you our rules?” before performing his track, “The Rules” from sophomore album On My Way. Fans were delighted to see Kweller boogie down during “Penny on a Train Track.” He closed with “Wasted and Ready,” which he apparently doesn’t perform very often but flattered us by saying we were “the kind of crowd who deserved it.”

In keeping with his boyish looks, Kweller stuck to the rules and was offstage by 11:55 p.m. Although no nosebleeds occurred, Kweller promised the room that when he plays this year’s ACL festival Sept. 16, he’ll be selling commemorative tampon shirts at the merchandise booth. I’ll be first in line. -- Sophie Rosenblum

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: When Kweller is not jamming, he roots for both the Mets and the Astros. What’s not to like?

Random Detail: Kweller’s cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today” gives a new twist to an old favorite.

By the way: You can find “I Need You Back, On My Way,” “ Commerce, TX” and “In Other Words” as free downloads at

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