Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ben Weaver/Josh Harty; October 21, 2010; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

Ben Weaver is an artist that you need to listen to. His subtle songs aren’t the kind to forcibly grab your attention, but once they have it they don’t let go. His second Bloodshot release (and seventh overall) Mirepoix & Smoke features more of what made The Axe in the Oak so addictive- smart, deceptively non-rhyming lyrics and graceful melodies that get stuck in your head for days, even if you don’t remember exactly where it came from. Somehow, despite being quieter and more spare, Mirepoix is even catchier. When I got the record, several of the songs were immediately familiar despite the fact that I couldn’t have heard any of them more than three times, his two sets at SXSW in March and a show at the house in May.

This was Ben’s third visit to the House of Righteous Music and on previous visits he had played solo. Tonight he was in the middle of a handful of dates in support of the new release, and for these shows he brought along upright bass player Liz. I’ll admit that when he said he was bringing an upright bass player I was expecting a guy, not a petite little girl with a pile of dreadlocks who is likely outweighed by her cumbersome instrument. But what an asset she was. I’ve never seen anyone add more playing less, I know a few musicians who could benefit from her style of playing. She seemed to feel the music and only played when it felt right, building up over an entire verse to pluck a few notes on the chorus. She was a much better fit than the more traditional band I’ve seen him play with a couple times before.

I’d never heard of mirepoix before Ben’s last visit to the house, in fact I’m pretty sure only Bill knew what it was. After his last record he found himself with writer’s block and itching to try something new, so he got a job in a kitchen of a Minneapolis restaurant. One of jobs each day was to cut mirepoix, the mixture of carrots, celery and onions that make the stock for many recipes. After many days of that and smoking cigarettes the title of the new record became apparent. Ben splits the songs between banjo and guitar and the recorded versions are so sparse that the live versions don’t sound much different. It is definitely a good thing, few musicians could get away with depending that heavily on just their voice. This approach makes every word clear, and it is easy to get hypnotized by his smart, observant lyrics. For example, my favorite line from the myriad of choices is “When you lose your head, your heart comes shooting out through your neck,” from “While I'm Gone,” the literal and figurative meanings are endlessly intriguing.

Josh Harty has been a frequent guest at the House of Righteous Music, his conversational demeanor and aw shucks charm make him a perfect choice as opener for nearly any singer-songwriter. I’ve seen him many, many times over the years and thought I had heard all his stories, but it turns out he’s been saving a few. Of course one of them had just happened earlier in evening at the Overture Center when as an experienced bartender, he took advantage of someone with far less experience. Ordering a Makers Mark, he had to explain that he just wanted Makers while the bartender kept trying to add a mixer. What he got was multiple shots on the rocks, for $6, “I laughed all the way… sideways,” he confessed. In addition to his original songs he played a stunning cover of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” the saddest song ever written about a girl and a motorcycle. Yep, another good night in the basement.

Josh Harty

Ben Weaver

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