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:: Ben Kweller :: Josh Pyke ::
14 November 2006 / Academy 1 / Manchester
By Lauren Strain

Josh Pyke, then. Affable. Five o’clock shadow, possibly a bit later than. Exceptionally nice sticker design involving a rabbit and some swirls. In fact, the general presentation of promotional ephemera indicates that this might be something delicate and poetic, something like woodland songs about gentle myths with maybe the odd bit of electronic beepery; some shuffling, shifting whispered hints of samples – the breeze, a bird, that sort of thing. It all promises a bit too much, really; we’re actually delivered a set of wholesome, yeah, rounded, yeah, but ultimately rather bland plots of songs from this Australian honest face. Sort of warming and lulling enough for a pre-show warm-up as you sup a softly alcoholic drink, I suppose, but his competent yet indistinct voice fails to imprint itself... Still, there’s an appreciative and politely receptive crowd in attendance, woozily smiling – their eyes glazing over a little, but unbothered and happy nonetheless.

Kweller is a revelation; an imp-faced, chutchy-cheeked scoundrel that you wouldn’t mind keeping in your garden shed; a startlingly confident, bouncing bundle of beans, sneaker scuffs and unruly hair. His short body boinking about in front of an endearingly assembled menagerie of throwbacks surely, SURELY, chosen for their retro timewarp appearances – luxurious, long, dark, wavy locks, outsized comedy shades, blazers and the kind of sway only a doped-out amateur aromatherapist circa ’78 with friends named Hyde could ever adopt this effortlessly – Kweller is a tiny munchkin of adolescent knees-ups (‘Hospital Bed’) and heartstoppingly out-of-nowhere moments of stunning tenderness. The loveliness of his songs lies in the painter’s lyrics – never anything elaborate, just emotive in their simplicity: “She makes hats with her hands, she is such an artist – I’m her biggest fan, and I’m teaching her to sing” he smiles fondly during ‘On My Way’. Or, take the sparse, thoughtful ‘Insert Song Title Here, Sorry, It’s On The New Album And I Can’t Afford It Yet’ as he sits hunched at the piano, alone, and calmly, then urgently, wracks himself with love, singing his way through the infinite list of images in his mind’s eye; a meeting, a walk, an argument, a kiss. The little crayon pictures overlap, you see the rough paper edges over rough paper edges, the smudges, the new outlines, colourful people holding hands, blue bubbles of tears and then those hands held again. It’s the longest song of the evening; we’re beguiled and absorbed into a journey through framed memories, this storyboard walled with mirrors and photographs. It’s BEAUTIFUL. We look like kids, slightly gormless, sat crosslegged on the reading bay carpet around teacher at primary school; ‘cause there’d always be the one fun young one, wouldn’t there? Probably new and straight out of training college, just to balance out the menopausal, tyrannically nutty ones.

To the thumping, rumbling clatter of his trademark, disorganised clutterbug drumkit, jingly jangly daisychain guitars and raucous “HEYYYY!”ing during ‘I Need You Back’, he raises the spirits of a dreary rain by approximately 391%, kicks a bucket of rainbows over our heads and treats the dedicated fans to an off-kilter, wacky ‘Sha Sha’, over in a matter of seconds with all its delectable schizoid vowelplay and all its standing on piano stools and falling off piano stools. So yeah, basically, Kweller brings the New York summers with their humid, lazy days sleeping away the city in sunbleached parks and their booting of soccer balls with scruffy friends to Manchester. And all of it, ALL of it, with that street-urchin glimmer in those sultana-pudding eyes. What’s not to love?

Josh Pyke
Ben Kweller

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