JEFF TWEEDY with BEN KWELLER at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, March 1. Tickets: $22. Attendance: 700. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
seeing slouchy singer boy ben Kweller whining his puppy love songs, it was hard to believe he was once the object of one of the most intense music-biz bidding wars ever waged.
A lot has changed in the last five years. Kweller's highly touted grunge-lite outfit, Radish, couldn't possibly live up to the outrageous advance hype, and the group vanished.
But instead of flipping burgers with his dad, our kid Kweller is checking out how the less fortunate musicians become rock stars. So he's playing some low-key opening spots -- no advance press -- to try to win over a few fans the old-fashioned way before taking a second crack at fabricating a multi-million-selling smash. He should consider writing a couple of decent tunes first. One sappy, sensitive Ben Lee is more than adequate, thanks.
While a few smokers ran out for a quick puff during the intermission, Jeff Tweedy's yawning road crew tuned guitars and toot-tested harmonicas. Then the Wilco front man made his grand entrance, bleary-eyed and looking as though he'd been sleeping in a dumpster.
No "Hello, Toronto" -- nothing. He just barrelled into his set, running through a sampling of more recent Wilco material one song into the next as if he were late for an important appointment.
While Tweedy can get away with silence surrounded onstage by the rest of Wilco, up there alone his lack of showmanship becomes a problem.
He didn't attempt to engage the audience by introducing new compositions, tossing off humorous anecdotes or even telling a bad joke. That might work for a crowd of Wilco faithful, but if he intends to continue playing solo he'll need to work on his entertainer skills. Interestingly, the Woody Guthrie numbers got a more enthusiastic response than his own songs.
After an hour, he ran off. If the audience hadn't demanded it, Tweedy likely would've skipped the encore and split back to Chicago.