BEN LEE @ BRISBANE POWERHOUSE, SATURDAY JUNE 19TH
Ben Lee's energy is contagious from the very moment he steps onto stage, almost as if he's at home hosting a wine tasting in front of the fire, entering a room full of friends who are immediately ready for his banter and heart-on-sleeve stories.
He tunes his guitar, introduces his only band mate - his JVC cassette deck - much to the audience's delight, awkwardly tangles his guitar strap and leaps right into the uplifting 'Into The Dark'. Leaping from 'Love Me Like The World Is Ending' to early highlight 'Ache For You' to classic 'Cigarettes Will Kill You', it's apparent from the get-go that Lee isn't pulling any punches tonight and that we're in for an astonishingly good setlist. He jokes that 'Cigarettes....' was the greatest song of 1998, aside from The Offspring's 'Pretty Fly (For A White Guy', of course. He has many the anecdote of the music industry and his own career at large, a fascinating line of music, events and relationships when further researched. He calls to the audience for requests and when something really obvious is suggested, he laughs "That one is pretty much a contractual obligation, isn't it?!"
He does take some requests, however, and reaches deep into his back catalogue for songs that provoke heavy nostalgia, evoke innocence, pull at youthful heartstrings and, as he calls them, are coming of age soundtracks. He pokes more fun at the business and paints a hilarious picture of his own career ultimately being aligned with Evan Dando and how he spontaneously shifted a cliched lyric into a nonsensical one when writing 'Hard Drive', a song Dando recorded for his 2003 solo album 'Baby I'm Bored'.
A trio of new songs - the lockdown-inspired 'Parents Get High', 'Sex And Drugs And Rock'n'Roll' and 'I Was Born For This Bullshit' - suggests that his forthcoming album is going to be a true return to indie-pop form. He reveals the album will be called I Am Fun and will be out soon.
His landmark 2005 album - Awake Is The New Sleep - gets the heaviest coverage with the still remarkable 'Gamble Everything To Love' and 'Everything Is Ok' being included in addition to the early cuts and what's still to come. The insanity of 'Pointless Beauty' and 'Happiness' continue the unrelenting momentum into what would've been his encore. He uses this perceived encore time more productively, instead of heading off stage, he turns his back to the crowd, sips his drink, rewinds his cassette and jumps into the "contractually-obligated" part of the evening, two COVD anthems 'Catch My Disease' and the finale 'We're All In This Together'.
Lee has aged more gracefully than a lot of his peers - the very definition of 'forever young' - completely poised to remain and cement his position of household name well into his old age. His show - armed with a guitar, some crudely produced beats on cassette (sorry, Ben), a larger than life personality, an astonishing past of celebrity and, most importantly, an incredible cannon of top shelf, impeccable tunes - is a masterclass in what one can do with very little. We, as a country, should be pedestalling his songwriting up there amongst our best and reconnecting with his catalogue. His energy is indeed infectious, admirable and simultaneously formidable and his "true art is just going for it" mantra has done him far more good than harm and his life is seemingly the better for it. In 2021, in the current state of society, it's crystal clear that we can all learn a thing or two from Ben Lee.
INTO THE DARK
LOVE ME LIKE THE WORLD IS ENDING
ACHE FOR YOU
CIGARETTES WILL KILL YOU
EVERYTHING IS OK
IS THIS HOW LOVE'S SUPPOSED TO FEEL
PARENTS GET HIGH
SEX AND DRUGS AND ROCK'N'ROLL
I WAS BORN FOR THIS BULLSHIT
I AM A SUNFLOWER
GAMBLE EVERYTHING FOR LOVE
CATCH MY DISEASE
WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
AWAKE IS THE NEW SLEEP (10TH ANNIVERSARY 2LP EDITION)