JAY BENNETT with Kelly Hogan at the Horseshoe, January 31. Tickets: $7. Attendance: 200. Rating: NNN
pity the fool who leaves a killer band and launches a solo career. The scrutiny of devoted fans can be tough. For every Neil Young, there's a Steve Malkmus waiting in the wings. Or, as the rocker dude sitting next to me scoffed halfway through Jay Bennett's Thursday-night set, "You know, there's a reason Guns N' Roses were wicked and Slash and the Snakepit sucked."
Bennett cut his ties with alt-rock phenoms Wilco in mid-August of last year. Wilco's upcoming album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, is already being heralded as their best yet. Mum's the word on Bennett's soon-to-drop opus. But judging from the tunes he and musical partner Edward Burch previewed at the Horseshoe, the word can't be good.
Bennett and Burch finger-picked their way through a laid-back set of sweet, sorta bland acoustic songs bolstered by harmonies between Bennett's gravelly drawl and Burch's slightly whiny warble and by welcome Wurlitzer accents.
The mood they evoked was of two old buds with guitars on a screened-in porch swigging Southern Comfort on a lazy late-summer night.
Lethargy's OK when you're hangin' out with your pals, but it makes for an unexciting show. Bennett tried to mix it up with some thinly veiled rants about his former band. Seems he's so bitter about the split that he can't even bring himself to mention Wilco's name.
After that snoozeworthy set, Kelly Hogan's country-blues-gospel-Motown torch act was highly appreciated. The latter-day Patsy Cline riled up the joint, kicking off her set with a holler of "OK, let's whip it out, men!" She's a smouldering, smoky-voiced siren whose singing sends shivers up the spine, and she knows how to electrify a crowd. There's something to be said for a little excitement -- and a lot of sex appeal.