Brendan Benson has come a long way — though he ended just about where he started. The Detroit-based power-popper played to a sold-out crowd Saturday night at the Blind Pig, the third show of his abbreviated seven-stop North American tour.
Nearly 10 years after his debut album One Mississippi was released on major label Virgin, Brendan’s back promoting his most recent major label effort, Alternative to Love. Benson was dropped after One Mississippi sales failed to live up to critical hype, but 2002’s excellent Lapalco, released on indie Startime, led to a renewed interest in his McCartney-esque power pop and a cult following that got him a second chance with Virgin subsidiary V2.
He didn’t disappoint with Alternative to Love either, turning in radio-ready riffs and the type of melodies that leave a lasting imprint. So why hasn’t he achieved the level of success of friend and collaborator Jack White? Saturday’s performance gave some clues.
Benson kicked off the show with a few songs from Alternative to Love, including the ballsy rocker “Spit it Out.” Even when performing this kiss-off song or One Mississippi’s bondage fantasy “Sittin’ Pretty,” Benson seemed timid, alternating between coy glances at his guitarist and shy nods to friends in the crowd.
His 45-minute set was heavy on songs from Alternative to Love, highlights of which included the title track, “Cold Hands (Warm Heart),” and “What I’m Looking For.” These songs translated well to a live-setting where older songs such as “You’re Quiet” and “Life in the D” suffered. Benson’s backing band, The Wellfed Boys, were more than capable musicians, but were unable to provide the rich backing harmonies Brendan himself performs in the studio. That said, Brendan’s voice sounded terrific, as he nonchalantly hit every note and slipped into his sublime falsetto with ease.
His set was the perfect length; had it been any longer, the audience would have been liable to melt in the intense heat of a packed Pig. His encore was prompt and was kicked off by an altered version of “Tiny Spark” — the lead track — and car commercial-featured song off Lapalco. He then quickly ran through a cover of The International Submarine Band’s “Strong Boy” and ended with one of the weaker tracks on Alternative to Love, “Biggest Fan.”
Playing in front of his family and friends as well as industry executives, the show was a relatively successful homecoming for Benson. For the most part, he sounded great and the crowd responded well. Still, Benson’s lack of confidence played into the feeling that he ought to have moved onto bigger and better things by now.