Don’t expect a Brendan Benson show to blow you away.
He won’t play his blonde-wood Gibson with his teeth, he won’t attempt to crowd surf and there will be no Jon Bon Jovi-esque pyrotechnics. But if quiet charm is what you’re looking for, Benson has plenty.
Detroit-born Benson hit the Blind Pig Friday night, displaying both his musical strength and his mild-child show. He launched into scuzzy guitar rock and cosmic-love ballads with equal enthusiasm, but his body language suggested an anxious boy next door – not a well traveled, power-pop maestro.
Benson is a deft songwriter with an acute ear for melody; for him, it’s the little details that make the music. It’s the tinkling toy piano of “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” and the Southern-friend, Sly Stone-style bass groove of “Alternative to Love.” Benson whipped out all of these tricks, smiling sheepishly in between sets as audience members yelled, “Brendan, have my babies!” and quoted lines from “You’re Quiet.”
It’s key that his albums are capable of wooing fans by themselves; a newer fan looking to be entertained by Benson’s stage show will be disappointed. Onstage he’s restrained and seems detached, save for tapping feet and a few head tilts. His backup band, especially muppet-like drummer Matt Aljian, has far more entertainment value.
Benson’s most effective weapon is his voice: It morphs from squint-eyed falsetto to a caramel tenor, smoothing over rougher cuts such as “I’m Easy” or painful tuning complications on “Tiny Spark.”
But then again, Benson’s stage presence (or lack thereof) fits in with his shy, adorably awkward persona. This troubadour is the boy who’s never good enough for the girl in “Metarie,” struggling with the physical affliction of “Cold Hands, Warm Heart.”
The Pig was packed from stage to door, but Friday’s crowd was relatively tame. While the venue has seen bigger audiences, Bensonites were packed in close. They were faithful, singing along to much of his catalog. But they didn’t dance, except for a casual sway to-and-fro, even when the singer himself came awfully close to it.
With his mix of melancholy and style, Benson doesn’t have the big-stage, big-show persona the way buddy Jack White does. But the slight, indie-popster persona works for him. Benson might not be able to command a crowd at the Palace, but sometimes the small time is a better fit for the music.