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MUSIC / POP MUSIC REVIEW

Ben Kweller doesn't skip any songs

The admired performer dedicates each of three nights at the Echo to playing an entire album.

September 07, 2007|Natalie Nichols | Special to The Times

"We're never going to do this again, play an album all the way through," Ben Kweller said Wednesday, the first of his three nights at the Echo, each slated to feature the Texas-reared singer-songwriter performing a different solo collection. "It's a lot of fun, but it's not something you want to do very much."

This lively, casual evening, dedicated to his 2002 sophomore album, "Sha Sha" (Thursday was for 2004's "On My Way" and tonight's performance was to feature last year's "Ben Kweller"), was certainly fun. Everyone got a "commemorative lyric book," and the adoring throng heartily sang along, especially on such organically catchy favorites as "How It Should Be (Sha Sha)" and "Wasted & Ready." Donning an earflap hat like the one on the album cover, the easygoing guitarist-keyboardist tossed out party favors from a red "Sha Sha Box," which he later used to let fans draw three random song titles for the encore.

A veteran at age 26, Kweller had his first brush with success in 1997 when his teenage grunge-punk band Radish got a major-label deal and a New Yorker magazine profile. Failing to become the next Nirvana, the group was dropped before releasing a second album, leaving him to pursue a more low-profile solo career.

On Wednesday, the alternately rousing and reflective youthful ruminations from "Sha Sha" -- about sex, pursuing your dreams and opening yourself up to love -- still resonated for the mostly twentysomething audience.

Kweller, bassist Chris Morrissey and drummer Mark Stepro were gleefully adept in delivering these anthems blending chiming classic pop, moody post-punk and thunderous grunge. Kweller confessed concern about performing "No Reason" and "Harriet's Got a Song," because the band never plays them live, but both were among the 90-minute set's more enjoyable numbers.

Like other artists recently revisiting older works in concert, including Lucinda Williams and Sonic Youth, Kweller clearly pleased the faithful. But he harbored his own affection for the material, gently bragging that the quirkily optimistic, piano-driven "Falling" is among the songs he's particularly proud of writing.

After finishing "Sha Sha," the trio offered three clever new country-tinged tunes that explored more adult issues of losing love and battling life with that same offbeat-yet-affecting lyrical style.

Among the encores, the romantic ballad "Believer" stretched out into a sprawling blues, uncovering a hidden rock-star facet in this low-key artist's considerable arsenal.

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