That Time I Sang With Ben Kweller
By E. Max Bonem, Esq.
Last Friday night I visited the Continental Club, one of Austin’s oldest and most storied venues. Although it’s now surrounded by food trucks, retail shops, and a plethora of visitors to the SoCo strip, the Continental Club has played host to a slue of who’s who in rock and roll, including Elvis, Roy Orbison, and Willie Nelson to name a few, and has stood strong as Austin has transformed from a once sleepy hippy haven to whatever it’s being referred to as this week.
However folks, this was no ordinary trip to your local watering hole, no sir. This was a trip down memory road, a visit with a past self. Like most folks, I formed deep connections to certain bands and songs during high school that will stay with me forever. Whether it’s because of a certain time, place or person, the bands we listened to in high school, which for most individuals includes a heightened emotional state to say the least, stick with us whether we want them to or not. Friday night’s entertainment at the Continental Club was certainly a voice from my adolescence, and a familiar one at that: Ben Kweller.
You might remember Ben Kweller from such songs as “Lizzy,” “In Other Words,” “Wasted & Ready,” “On My Way,” or “Sundress,” or you might not recognize his name at all. For all I know, outside of my core group of high school buds & my sister, Ben Kweller could be as unknown as they come, but to us, at that time of our lives, he was awesome. In addition, he’s a local and I’ve spotted him at Whole Foods a few times with his wife and kids. So when a friend of mine suggested we go see him, I was down.
After being met by a surprisingly rowdy crowd of about 100 people, Kweller dove right in to his now expansive catalogue of songs. After opening with a few new ones, he started playing deeper cuts that brought back all sorts of memories, but it wasn’t until the first request from the crowd was yelled out and then promptly played by BK that I knew this could get interesting. Although I have a deep love more most of his music, Kweller’s collaborative EP with Ben Folds and Ben Lee about ten years ago (they were known as The Bens) is a personal favorite and I decided to see where I could take the whole request thing.
After weighing amongst the four songs from the EP, I decided to go with “Just Pretend,” an acoustic guitar and piano driven track that highlighted the harmonies amongst the three members that I figured he could probably play solo pretty easily. Eventually he took on the task and admitted that he had played piano on the original track, however, since he was playing solo that night, he decided to figure out the chords on the guitar and we were off. Soon enough though it became apparent that he didn’t remember most of the words and that he never got requests for this song. So, rather than bail on a request, he noticed I was mouthing most of the lyrics during the beginning of the song and he invited me onto the stage to help him sing.
Some things I learned quickly after getting on stage:
– I’m a big guy and trying to climb up onto the front of a stage wasn’t as easy as I anticipated.
– It’s bright up there.
– I have no idea how many hands you’re supposed to use to hold a microphone.
– I have no sense of key or pitch.
– I’m approximately twice the size of Ben Kweller.
Overall it was a really great experience and something that I’ll remember for a long time. Getting to harmonize with one of your favorite singers from a time not so long ago isn’t something you get to do every day and, on top of that, I actually had to direct him through parts of the song, including reminding him of the bridge. Afterwards I received a multitude of handshakes and congratulations from folks and I even got to have a quick chat with Kweller in which he asked if my name was Ben to see if I’d like to join up with the group if they ever get back together. I chuckled and then subsequently mumbled, “No, but it could be…” I even got a round of applause from patrons at the pizza place next door after we left. I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten an impromptu round of applause from greasy handed strangers chowing down on ‘za, but it was a very touching moment.
During the beginning of his set, Kweller told the audience that he “felt like getting weird tonight.” I guess I did too and for once, that was a good thing.