Sydney, Australia's Ben Lee played his second Chicago gig of the year last night at the Metro, but my Ben experience began a day before. On Tuesday night around Midnight I met Ben, the guys from Phantom Planet, and some local radio personalities at Danny's in the hip Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood. It's a perfect little bar, tucked away on a side street and with plenty of nooks and crannies for people to have a beer, talk, and listen to some good music. We did just that. I met up with the group about 1,234 beers behind the rest of the pack, but managed to enjoy myself nonetheless, listening to Ben tell stories, watching these two starfuckers tell Ben how amazing he is for an hour, and partaking in some baked goods from Chicago's very own Muffin Lady. If you've ever seen Ben play live, you'd know that he's one of the most charming and personable performers around. He's exactly the same way in person - very laid back, easy going and fun to talk to. We all adjourned to our respective homes/hotel rooms around 2:00AM to rest up for Wednesday's big show.
The Metro was slow to fill up, but by the time Ben took the stage around 7:30, the place was about 3/4 full. Ben wore a navy blue blazer atop a teal hoodie with a pair of beaten up old jeans and came out wielding a bass guitar. He was accompanied by the golden-voiced lead guitarist McGowan and drummer/keyboard player Lara, who Ben describes as a "firecracker." The three started out with a slower, new tune, but the rest of the set consisted almost entirely of songs from Ben's latest effort, Hey You. Yes You. Ben chatted with the crowd between songs. He told jokes, shared stories about his Chicago roots, and gave a shout out to the Muffin Lady. Ben ran through "Running With Scissors," "Aftertaste," and "No Room To Bleed," among others, over the course of his 45-minute set. He did also show the all-ages crowd that he's hip with TRL. Halfway through the set, McGowan and Lara left the stage, leaving Ben all by his lonesome. He proceeded to play a song everyone knew - Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful." The song was actually penned by 4 Non Blondes' Linda Perry and is quite uhÖ beautiful. The crowd LOVED it.
If that wasn't fun enough for everyone, a bit later he began strumming his guitar with the strings muted, making a drum sound. He asked the crowd, "Now fellas, what's coolerÖ than being cool," to which they instantly replied, "Ice Cold!" He continued, "Now ladies, we gonna break this thing down in just a few seconds. Don't have me break this thing down for nothing. I want to see ya'll on your baddest behavior. Lend me some sugar. I am your neighbor." Lara then handed him a camera (Polaroid). Ben took a photo of the crowd then said, "Now shake it, shake shake shake it, shake it like a Polaroid picture." It fucking ruled. Everyone loves "Hey Ya!" and everyone had the biggest smiles on their faces. It was quite a moment.
We headed back stage after Ben's set, then next door to the Gingerman for some beer, pool, beer, beer, and music industry/rock star mingling. Word has it Ben and the gang continued the night at Danny's in hopes of meeting up with the Muffin Lady, but I cashed in my chips around 2:00 AM in favor of my warm cozy bed. AhhhÖ good times.