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(Not quite) being there

Jay Bennett, Middle East Upstairs, November 1, 2006

11/2/2006 2:59:59 PM

Jay Bennett, a multi-instrumentalist songwriter and session musician best known for his seven year tenure as a member of Wilco, stopped at the Middle East Upstairs last night in support of his latest solo record The Magnificent Defeat (Rycodisc). It was the last night of his East Coast tour. So maybe it was fatigue. Maybe it was the muddy sound in the room. Maybe it was the energy of the audience. But Bennett didn’t own it.

The set began with a solo Bennett, who made his studio album debut on Wilco’s Being There, playing a series of slow numbers. The songs, if predictable, revealed glimpses of his smart songcraft, with a sound like Closing Time-era Tom Waits singing over the loose, murky guitar of Nirvana’s In Utero. Between songs, Bennett talked to the crowd with the confidence of a first-timer at open mic night. He was affable, sure, but nervous, too. Which came as a surprise — he’s got the chops and the experience to go up on stage and make it his show, but last night it seemed that he was unsure if he should've been up there at all. Bennett mentioned to me after the show that he has a history of tough luck playing the room.

Death Ships, the opening/supporting act from Iowa City, joined Bennett onstage for the second set. Despite the crude sound, the show picked momentum, and Bennett seemed much more at ease among a group. They launched into a blend of pop, rock, and  country — country in the sense of the Jayhawks as opposed to the formulaic junk that congeals under a ten-gallon hat. The best way to describe their sound? It was kinda like . . . Wilco. Which makes sense, considering Bennett had a fair amount to do with the development of the band’s sound. He began with them in ’96, and left the band after the final sessions of the critically acclaimed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

But whereas Wilco has moved towards a more sonically experimental realm, Bennett focuses on writing and performing straight-ahead rock music, complete with keyboard simulated classic B3 effects and saturated tube distortion. Songs like “5th Grade” and “Replace You” (co written with friend and remaining Wilco member John Stirrat) demonstrate a strong melodic sense. It can be argued that his latest album contains some qualities that Wilco’s recent albums lack.


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  • DIGGING IT:   Art Brut, Spinto Band, and Tokyo Police Club, Middle East, October 16, 2006

"Bennett, who made his studio album debut on Wilco’s Being There" Ever heard of Titanic Love Affair? Do your research.

POSTED BY Noodle AT 11/03/06 3:50 PM

I think its obvious that the writer meant Bennett first recorded with Wilco on Being There. I think we all know about Titanic Love Affair!

POSTED BY zigzig AT 11/04/06 8:11 PM

An apparent oversight by Matt Saraca - how could he ever forget the amazing Titanic Love Affair? Saraca should hang is head in shame and consider writing for the Hyde Park Tribune. Hearfelt thanks for pointing this out, Noodle.

POSTED BY Jim Gallant AT 11/04/06 10:40 PM

What's this? Were my comments too harsh? I simply pointed out that what Matt wrote was "studio album debut" so there's no reason I should think that he really meant something else. It's trivial but it weakens the whole review.

POSTED BY Noodle AT 11/05/06 10:12 AM

Who cares about how the dude plays, everyone knows you just go to see him for his rugged good looks

POSTED BY RandySavage AT 11/10/06 1:16 PM

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