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Ben Kweller – Glasgow King Tuts

Gig-going is not necessarily a passive experience. A crowd can influence and help shape the experience almost as much as the performer. An unresponsive audience can kill a gig stone dead, while a crowd who have arrived full of verve can channel that into the act and raise what would have been merely a good show into a great one.

Ben Kweller’s crowd, thankfully, are the latter. Through the course of three underrated albums, he has built up a sterling back catalogue and it would appear that everyone in attendance knows every single song. Tonight’s show features him alternating between guitar and piano with accompaniment from a seated steel guitar player. But he’s also accompanied vocally by just about everyone in the hall, giving the gig an ‘event’ feel.

Musically, Kweller sounds like a poppier Josh Rouse, if such a thing is possible. Wearing a love of 70’s rock on his sleeve, the set is a list of stomping crowd-pleasers, from the deliciously mental ‘Sha Sha’ to the tender singalong ballad of ‘Sundress’. He performs a beautiful cover of Neil Young’s ‘From Hank to Hendrix’ before launching into the awesome ‘Walk On Me’, where a few hundred drunken Glaswegians nearly sing the roof off the place. He’s a consummate showman, a whirling dervish spinning across the stage and interacting emphatically with the crowd. The energy he generates for what could, in less skilled hands, be a fairly sedate show is palpable.

Playing a full half hour more than he was billed to, no-one is leaving the hall feeling short-changed. Tonight has been a perfect synergy between audience and performer and it has created a really positive vibe. It’s great to see an artist who performs for the crowd rather than for themselves, though no-one watching could deny that they are watching a man truly in love with his work. Indeed, when the crowd begin shouting requests, he smiles and says he’ll play them all. This is almost the anti-Radiohead, a show predicated almost entirely on what the crowd have paid money to see. it’s thrilling, it’s enervating and above all, it’s packed full of tunes you’ll be whistling for weeks afterwards. That cannot be bad.

He’s back with a new album and a full band tour early in the new year. Will he remain one of rock’s great secrets or will this be the one which takes him overground? On this form, ELM wouldn’t want to bet against it.

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