Ben Jelen with Pete Yorn, Live on the Levee!
J. Gordon
8/4/2007 9:09:08 AM

It’s a rare thing today when a handsome young artist’s music is good enough to overshadow his teen magazine/poster-boy potential. Ben Jelen, who just happened to be prettier than any of the women watching him perform as he opened the free show at the Arch for Pete Yorn, is a pop singer/songwriter with enormous talent as a writer, musician and singer. Did I mention he’s adorable?

Born in Scotland, Jelen looks more Cherokee than tartan with long black hair and a summer-tanned, dark complexion. His vocals are friendly, occasionally beautiful and edged with a sexy rasp. Switching between his keyboard and an electric violin, this multi-instrumentalist (who also plays guitar ) kept his singing spot-on and energetic.

While at work on the new album, Jelen said in a press release that he’d listened to Sigur Ros in the evenings, Jet in the mornings, Pink Floyd during the day and tons of Beatles music. And it shows. His keyboard-heavy pop has imprints of all of these artists, but with no obvious rip-offs and an across-the-board pop accessibility that gives him appeal to every generation.

Some sound problems at the show made it hard to get a sense of the terrific lyrics or backing vocals on his sophomore CD, ex-sensitive [Custard records], which was produced and engineered by his record label owner, Linda Perry (former lead of the legendary 4 Non Blondes). Ben Jelen’s music has been featured on television programs such as One Tree Hill, Smallville, and the movie, Finding Neverland. This guy won’t be doing big free shows much longer, and Pete Yorn should have been opening for him.

Speaking of Pete Yorn:

We knew there was trouble before the show even started. Seeing Yorn hanging out backstage in his black jacket (despite the hot summer temperatures and the sun still up), and his black fedora cap, it’s evident he’s bought into his own rock star myth. Honestly, he would have been so much cooler (in every sense of the word) wearing an old t-shirt and jeans.

Standing underneath St. Louis’ Arch, Pete Yorn greeted the crowd, told us it was the first night of his tour, and turned toward the river, saying, “The Mighty Mississippi! That is the Mississippi, right?”

He launched into hit after hit, but each one came off rather flat and straight-up, countrified rock. Yawn. And what happened to that just-woke-up-sexy-mumbling growl he had all through his debut CD, musicforthemorningafter? Seems like Yorn has decided to just sing straight-forward nowadays, which is fine, but lacks that certain something that once made him so unique.

Onstage, there was plenty of rockstar posturing and gimmicks, along with the incredibly boring audience singing to best-known tunes such as “Strange Condition.” When will performers learn that we are there to hear them, not ourselves?

One of the best things about most live performances is the banter; the little things you learn between songs about the artist or where a song comes from. But sometimes it’s just too much information. Case In Point: Yorn said that he wrote “Just Another Girl” while trying to create a song that sounded like Jeff Buckley’s cover of the Leonard Cohen tune, “Hallelujah.” Don’t get me wrong, “Just Another Girl” is a terrific little pop song. But comparing it to “Hallelujah” is like putting a Big Mac next to a four-star restaurant lobster dinner on the coast of Maine. Pete Yorn has become junk food, and if I can’t have the old stuff, I’d rather go hungry.


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