All of 27 years old, seasoned singer-songwriter Ben Kweller, who was penning tunes at age 8, still projects a youthful charm. Even with his new album, Changing Horses, he showcases his always-there country side on some Dobro/pedal-steel-soaked adult material ("Homeward Bound," for example, about a junkie living under a bridge - a heartfelt highlight live).
At the TLA on Friday, whether bantering about taking his (thrilled) 21/2-year-old son to see the Liberty Bell that day or digging deep on solo piano mid-set for a maturely introspective song like his older "On My Way," the mop-topped Texan came off like an enthusiastic big kid, a wise-beyond-his-years teen.
Yet although he once was that precocious talent - leading his power-pop-punk band Radish to a label deal at 15, signing solo before 20 - he is now an assertive grown-up, with four stylistically diverse albums under his belt. Whirling about the stage strumming plugged-in acoustic guitar, he recalled both a bounding Springsteen (maybe more Nils Lofgren, actual E St. Band guitarist and family friend) and Dwight Yoakam, occasionally holding the six-string out straight by the neck like the latter as his four-piece band kicked out rockin' bubblegum honky-tonk.
Earlier, the identical L.A.- based Watson Twins (touring collaborators on Jenny Lewis' 2006 solo album), offered much from their 2008 Fire Songs album. Kentucky-born sisters Chandra and Leigh also pleased with the Bill Withers goldie "Ain't No Sunshine" and, best, their gorgeous Americana slow-drag cover of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven."
New York-based Jones Street Station also warrant mention, at the least for their closing number, when all five members gathered in fine harmony on "Tall Buildings" (their ode to big-city working), accompanied only by sparse guitar and harmonica. Unfortunately, few saw their entire bluegrass-informed country-rock half-hour set - they had to begin at 8:45, despite all stated showtimes (including marquee) indicating a 9 o'clock start.
Such is the fate of opening bands sometimes. But any young act enterprising enough to ask/get Mekons/Waco Brothers/etc. frontman Jon Langford to sing a track on its debut album deserves better; Kweller brought them all out to sing with the Watsons in his encore set, with Jones' mouth-harp virtuoso Jon Hull scorching up Kweller's lively trucker-themed "Fight" right nicely.