Brendan Benson makes brilliance look so easy, you kind of wonder why there aren’t more people out there making perfect morning records. Lapalco got the most spins 10am-noon in our office last year and Brendan’s new offering Alternative To Love, now out on V2, is quickly becoming as necessary on the way to work as a cup of coffee. Brendan’s charm comes not just from his earnest, witty, biting, self-effacing, teasing lyrics, but also in his ability to create distinct and varied moods in each song. Opening track on Alternative To Love, “Spit it Out” is an explosively perfect pop song that leads into “Cold Hands, Warm Heart,” a song so fragile in it’s tinkering piano and longing vocal it seems like it might perfectly de-rail at any moment; “I Feel Like Myself Again,” starts with a fuzzy bass and chugging drum line while “Pledge Of Allegiance” is positively Spector-esque. Brendan played a majority of the genre-defying tracks off Alternative To Love as well as crowd favorites from Lapalco and One Mississippi at his sold out show at Bowery Ballroom on Friday night.
Brendan’s albums are charming, but his live performances elevate him from being some guy you bop your head to in the morning to being a completely endearing indie rock star. On March 22, the day of Alternative To Love’s release, Brendan and his right hand man, the Waxwings’ Dean Fertita played a set at Other Music, stripping down the new tunes to acoustic guitars and keyboards. In that intimate setting, their symbiotic live interaction was fascinatingly on display. On Friday night, Brendan and Dean were joined by drum and bass, filling out their sound, but taking away none of the charismatic interaction between the two and the audience. New songs including the current single “Spit it Out” and title track “Alternative To Love” were introduced amid Lapalco favorites “Metarie,” “Good to Me,” and “Tiny Spark.” Even though on stage, as a member of opening band The Stands said, Brendan looks like he’s twelve, his songs present a guy learning about life and love, friends and fucking (Brendan even changed the lyric on “You’re Quiet” from “I need a pick-up and I don’t mean truck” to, ummm, some other word that rhymes with truck). With two perfect records under his belt, one likes to think that Brendan could lead a new group of bands who are creating intelligent, earnest and diverse rock music away from the mindless dance pop rock of the past year. If really good songs mean anything in this crazy world, Brendan could be just the man to lead the way.