Jesus, Buddha, Allah - they've got nothing on this yiddish kid, Ben Lee, from Down Under. A bunch of underage chicks queued up at The Roxy in West Hollywood on Tuesday night to check out the fresh-faced boys of Phantom Planet, but their big surprise of the night was the charisma of Ben Lee. (Okay, full disclosure here, I'm a paid employee of thetripwire.com and their parent company Cornerstone and it's no secret that their fledgling label, F2 Music, has released Lee's latest album, his fourth, Hey You, Yes You. But this is no fluff piece -- we're not AOL and I'm not extolling the brilliance of Warner Recording artist Seal. No disrespect, Seal, from what I've heard, your new album is pretty good, but let's get back on point.)
Ben Lee has been making records since he was thirteen and with his latest, he's trying to finally make the world realize that he's not just another singer-songwriter, but a bona-fide rock star. He pleaded and pleaded with the kids at the Roxy, and the proof was in the pudding. During his 45-minute set - backed by guitarist McGowan Southworth and drummer/keyboardist Lara Gray (who he's been playing with for some 10 years) - the 25-year-old Lee commanded his audience. Drawing mostly from Hey You the trio brought a hard sound with their guitars, keyboard, bass (supplied uncharacteristically by Lee who admitted that "it's hard to strike a rock-star pose with a bass in your hand), and drum courtesy of an Evans kid's kit.
The world , save for the folks in Oz, might not be hip to Lee, but just wait until they hear his version of "Beautiful," the self-esteem power ballad penned by ex-4 Non Blonde Linda Perry and made famous by Christina Aguilera. Lee brings his own elan to the pop song and it may just be his ticket to the world's stage. Heaven knows that the girls at the Roxy thought so.
PS - All you "California"/OC-haters, the Phantom Planet held their own and delivered a tight set.
PPS - Their ex-drummer Jason Schwartzman a.k.a. Max Fischer has been replaced by a guy who bears a striking resemblance to the kid who played Bill Murray's lab assistant in The Royal Tenenbaums. Wes Anderson would approve.
"Running with Scissors"
"Back In Your Life"
"Aftertaste" (duet with co-writer Juanita Stein of Australian rockers Waikiki)
"No Room to Bleed" (dedicated to Elliott Smith)
"On & On"
"Cigarettes Will Kill You" (note: he stopped half way through and said "I'm not feeling this" then, into...)
"Something Borrowed Something Blue"
"Ship My Body Home"