Brendan Benson - Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton

It is one of the ironies in today’s world that Brendan Benson’s UK tour commenced during the same month that The X Factor hit our screens once again. Inevitably, the eventual winner of that competition will experience immediate, yet brief, whirlwind fame. Meanwhile, Benson released his first album in 1996, has achieved much critical acclaim, and is met on October 10 2005 by a Wulfrun Hall that is only one-third of the way full. Why? On the evidence of his set, God knows.

The night kicks off with an appearance from new boys on the scene, The Cinematics - think Muse meets Interpol by way of Jeff Buckley. Despite lacking originality, their sound is an interesting mishmash of great influences and their set, overall, an energetic kick to the ear. OK Go follow suit, providing a breezy selection of Weezer-esque pop ditties, topped off by a hilarious synchronised dance routine to latest single A Million Ways. A hard act to follow, then…

Or not. Benson and his band amble on stage and immediately launch into What, from cult success second record Lapalco, followed by Good To Me, oft-covered by Brendan’s pals, The White Stripes. These songs are melodic guitar-based mini-anthems, with many a hook intact. The set continues in this vein, catchy chorus following catchy chorus, with Benson claiming he’s ‘not John Lennon’ during Folk Singer. Give him a couple more years. Half an hour in, Benson gets out his big guns, the instant sing-a-long classics that are Metarie, What I’m Looking For and the title track to recent album The Alternative To Love.

The crowd aren’t singing, though. Whether due to shyness or unfamiliarity with Benson’s material, the extent of the crowd’s appreciation is a polite smattering of clapping at the close of each song and a severe case of ‘nodding head’ syndrome. Whilst Benson continues to pour energy into the music, it seems he is somewhat discouraged by the lack of feedback and, therefore, keeps the in-between-songs chat to a minimum. This lack of enthusiasm on the audience’s part proves to be the sole problem of the night, yet things start to look up towards the end with a very positive reception to the opening keyboard riff of Cold Hands (Warm Heart).

A triple-whammy encore ends things on a high note, and it is with a certain degree of trepidation that I leave Wulfrun Hall and return to a world where Saturday night TV is dominated by karaoke singers and Westlife have a new single out. No matter. When Jack White and Brendan Benson take on the world next year with their Raconteurs project, things might start to look up again...

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