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A Lot More Than Nothing: Ben Kenney, May 9 at the Redstone Room PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Wednesday, 07 May 2008 02:33

Ben Kenney, left, and his bandIf you want to see the full extent of Ben Kenney's talent, check out his video for "Eulogy."

In the clip (, the bassist for Incubus and the former guitarist for the Roots sings and performs guitar, bass, and drums - at the same time in four different panels.

Kenney, who will be performing with his band at the Redstone Room on Friday, May 9, said the origins of the impressive performance were less than pure.

"A long time ago ... I was trying to impress this girl, and I was telling her, ‘Yeah, I record records and stuff, and I do it by myself,'" he said in an interview last week. "And she wasn't really falling for any of it. She was like, ‘How do you play live?' - all kind of snarling at me. And I was stumped. ‘Well, I play with a band ... .'

"And that's when the idea hit me. Wouldn't it be sweet if I could play everything at once in a video? And then I started thinking: Wouldn't it be even better if I recorded it, if I actually did play it - if it wasn't lip-syncing, if it wasn't puppeteering, if it was a performance?"

There's certainly an element of boasting in Kenney's solo work. On "Not Today," the opening track to his 2008 album Distance & Comfort, a guitar solo escalates from standard-issue to shredding to a piercing tone that could shatter glass.

Ben Kenney and DJ Kilmore "Not Today" - like the video for "Eulogy" - is proof for the uninitiated that Kenney is more than a bassist for a popular alternative-rock band. (Kenney's recorded debut with Incubus was 2004's A Crow Left of the Murder ... , and the band's 2006 record Light Grenades debuted at number one on the Billboard charts.)

Yet Kenney also comes off as modest, noting that his records are constrained by his own talents. "It's always different [from the vision] when you realize your own limitations," he said.

"In every instrument, I've been trying to push myself a little harder ... and do more than I've done before," he added.

And that's made shows a bit of challenge, he admitted: "The guitar-playing has been beating my ass."

Unfortunately, Distance & Comfort sounds more like a statement than an album. The virtuosic, showy hard rock of "Not Today" falls unnaturally into the hazy bedroom funk of "Get It to Go," and there's no reason to pair them except as a display of range. Overall, Kenney is an articulate and evocative composer and performer - adept at mood - and the trouble with Distance & Comfort is less with the songs themselves than their lack of cohesion.

Kenney is at his best when he's not trying so hard. The duo of "18th Avenue" and "Eulogy" - both straightforward rock songs - is particularly strong. Kenney has an emotive, earnest voice and is particularly effective at matching his vocal melodies with muscular tunes. (The guitar solo of "18th Avenue," by the way, is as simple as could be, and as a result far more striking than the one on "Not Today.") Anxious rhythm guitar grounds his soaring vocals on "Eulogy."

Kenney said that people who come to see him live are generally open to something different from what they've seen from his work with the Roots and Incubus.

And they should be, as his solo shows include, at one point, Mexican wrestling masks and "30 seconds of ridiculousness" that he would only describe in vague terms.

Of audiences, he said: "They get a little more than the nothing they expected."


Ben Kenney will perform on Friday, May 9, at the Redstone Room in downtown Davenport. DJ Kilmore (also of Incubus) opens. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and tickets are $15 in advance and $17 at the door.

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