In the candlelit space at City Winery Saturday night, it was hard to tell who was there to see Ben Lee and who was there for the wine, food and atmosphere. After all, City Winery isn’t a venue where groups of 20-somethings crowd the stage and nod their heads. It’s more “dinner and a show” than “concert venue.” But regardless of your intentions that night, Lee put on an entertaining show for fans and wine drinkers alike.
David Berkeley opened with some standard acoustic guitar pop songs. After Berkeley’s 30-minute set, Lee came out with his guitar, MacBook Pro and Nic Johns on piano. As soon as Lee perched himself on a stool, he addressed listeners as if we were friends in his living room. “We’ll just hang out together,” Lee said warmly. “The music is incidental.” Lee then started the show with “Begin,” a song which prompted a couple woos from the audience.
After each song was finished, Lee exchanged banter with the crowd or his bandmate on topics that ranged from New York anecdotes to pop culture observations. Lee was endlessly charming and relaxed on the City Winery stage. It’s refreshing when an artist willingly creates a conversation with the audience as much as Lee did. His sense of humor was also spot-on. During what is arguably Lee’s most popular song, “Catch My Disease,” he substituted Good Charlotte, Sleepy Jackson and Beyoncé with Nicki Minaj, Bon Iver and “those fucking Rihanna and Chris Brown remixes.”
If you attended the concert hoping hear to some of Lee’s older songs, you’d be out of luck. Lee primarily played from his more recent releases, with Awake Is The New Sleep getting most of his attention. It’s surprising that he only played three songs off his new album, seeing as how his small handful of tour dates was to support Deeper Into Dream. The crowd members didn’t seem though, and they happily consumed Lee’s acoustic melodies.
Lee’s guitar and Johns’s piano kept things simple and intimate throughout the night. While there were occasionally laptop beats and an electric guitar to provide layers, Lee’s songs were mostly stripped down to their bare essentials. The night ended with “Song For The Divine Mother Of The Universe.” As the song reached the halfway point, people started singing along until the last note. It was a fitting end to an evening spent catching up and connecting with Lee.