Saturday, December 06, 2008

Denison Witmer/Ben Weaver; December 6, 2008; The Frequency

I’ll admit I wasn’t blown away by Ben Weaver the first time I saw him. Still in awe of Dietrich Gosser’s opening set that night, I couldn’t figure out why Bloodshot had signed the unimpressive singer-songwriter with the forced sounding rhymes and the tedious songs. Then I listened to his record (of course I have it, he is on Bloodshot), and something clicked. I’m not sure what exactly, but something did. The rhymes that were corny on first listen were less so the next time and clever the next, while his hypnotic voice drew me in to the stories he was telling. Like Richmond Fontaine leader Willie Vlautin or Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb, the voice he sings it in matters as much as what he is saying.

So when I found out that he had been added to the Denison Witmer show at the Frequency, I decided to give him another chance live. This time he was opening the show, so I was certainly less biased than I had been during the previous encounter. With a second show scheduled at the Frequency that night I should have known that it would start on time, still I was disappointed to learn when I arrived at 7:07 that he was on his third song. He had just laid down the banjo, but fortunately picked it up again later. His first release for Bloodshot, The Axe in the Oak, is his fourth release overall so he had plenty of material to draw from for his short set. And I guess it is no surprise that I really liked him this time. The fact that he said he had “CDs, T-shirts, and hugs if you need one” was perhaps the most adorable thing I’ve heard this year. I could attribute it to being more familiar with his material, or that it was a solo set as opposed to band, but really I have no idea. But what does it matter? I’ve been converted.

Denison Witmer had a little less work to do, he only had to overcome my opinion of his MySpace stuff which I found samey and a tad boring. Another lesson in why you shouldn’t judge a band by their MySpace. Live he proved to be an engaging storyteller’s songwriter as he shared the thoughts behind many of his songs. A virtual chatterbox compared to Weaver’s quiet set, he kept talking despite the cold that limited his voice. He explained that he had learned that clearing your throat was the worst thing you could do, that instead you should eat crackers or drink liquor. In light of the situation he decided the latter would be better. “If I get any sicker,” he joked, “I’ll need a driver.”

A former Madison resident, he had a number of friends and fans in the crowd which amounted to a pretty full room for an early show. He crowd was quiet and appreciative of his stories and his songs, which is always welcome at solo acoustic shows like this. He was consistently charming during his set, but perhaps never more so than when he commented that he had T-shirts for sale, “I couldn’t stand the idea of putting my name on my T-shirts, so instead I just put the name of the album on there.” Though they aren’t going to help with his name recognition, the arty shirts for Carry the Weight will at least make the record name known.

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