With tufted hair, gangly frame, and clothes-hanger shoulders, Brendan Benson seems genetically engineered for pop stardom. So does his ability to write melodies whose hooks and bridges seem to top one another and link as seamlessly as Legos. And that voice, with the Detroit-born Benson sounding effortlessly British. (Is there something on the Michigan law books that requires its musical citizenry to develop English accents? Hi, Madonna!)
Benson has made staunch, hard power pop since his 1996 debut, One Mississippi, and he followed that solo path, with much acclaim but without great sales, until 2005. That's when he hooked up with White Stripe Jack White in forming the Raconteurs and helped to make Raspberries-like hits (2006's Broken Boy Soldiers, 2008's Consolers of the Lonely). These days, White has turned his attentions to a sloppier, girl-fronted band (Dead Weather) and Benson has hit the solo trail again with a new-ish album (My Old, Familiar Friend) and a Monday night stop at World Cafe Live.
That show found Benson cruising his lower vocal range in "Good to Me" and riding a stuttering rhythm with an insistent twanging guitar. His lyrics need work, in both subject matter (runaway women, cars) and application. Comparing his girl's consistency to a "1980 Volvo" and "a beat-up Supro amp" is probably why Benson lost the ladies in other songs of his. Then again, through the high harmonies of "A Whole Lot Better," Benson was the fickle one, falling in and out of love. Benson and quartet (players from Ben Folds and Raconteurs) made the sugar pop and the beat loud on tunes such as "Don't Wanna Talk." For all Benson's contagious choruses and pointed melodies, after the show I couldn't remember a one. It was if his magical craft existed only in its moment.
Benson's opener, Cory Chisel, the son of a Baptist preacher, utilized a power-pop palette similar to Benson's. His Who-ish musical inspiration and warmly poetic lyrics showed delicious promise.