California now has an inventive rock storyteller God with presence enough to justify sharing stage with the state’s Queen of alt-indie.
Benji Hughes is part Shakespearean Monarch, part psychedelic beach bum. With unkempt beard, flowing locks and big old hairy belly this is a man as uncaringly cool as his music is compelling. With bravado to release a 25 track debut double album and lift his bulging shirt, Hughes doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks. His music may verge on novelty at times but this is novelty is the best sense – originality. With new direction found in each track his long-player and live set move perfectly between electro pop songs full of comedy genius and stripped back ballads. This is love with all its ecstasy and misery, on parade for an already jammed venue. Full of devout Jenny Lewis fans and decaying opulence, Koko christened its latest star of New Weird America.
‘Tight Tee Shirt’ is a brilliant piece of fun and ‘I went with some friends to see the Flaming Lips’ a modern take on breezy west coast. A feel good organ led happy clapper is transformed in to a silent bubble from where Benji sings, back in his spot among thousands, of an incredible gig and dreamy tripping moments floating in space. This is clever, Mmmmmmm.
“We checked in to our rooms and started eating mushrooms
We realized Mark had taken too much, taken way too much…
And later that night while the band played
I held the girl that I love in my arms
And most of my friends
And we all took turns holding Mark
Sometimes I almost forget how great that night really was
Then I talk to Mark and he can’t remember anything at all”
‘Love Is a Razor’ is Hughes’ masterpiece. A slow, mournful and stark piece leaves his Lanegan/Staples vocal alone but for sweet harmonies and an acoustic guitar.
“Love is a razor
It’s cold and it’s sharp
And it’s cutting out your heart
The glow in the dark”
Highlights were new pop classics ’Love On A Budget’ and ‘Baby It’s Your Life’. The former is a vivid ride through quirky Americana with glorious high vocals underscored by the most beautiful deep velvet synths. The latter could easily be a memorable cover but is in fact completely original and highly addictive camp disco in the vein of Fleetwood Mac or Rilo Kiley’s ‘Under The Blacklight’.
Jenny Lewis thought highly enough of this brilliant maverick to invite him on tour and to her headline stage for a couple of tracks including the modern folk licks, funk soul grooves and howling majesty of ‘ The Next Messiah’. Hughes’ deep throaty vocal combined perfectly with Lewis’ twanging voice of a southern country angel. Rilo Kiley always divided opinion, Jenny Lewis’ easy cowboy hooplas get everyone dancing and smiling. Yet nothing in her solo career can compete with the early Rilo Kiley records. While her set is lovely and produces real moments of magic such as ‘Carpetbaggers’ and a cover of ‘Love Hurts’ it almost drifts by.
Jenny Lewis is still a badass but Benji Hughes took us on the most memorable and wacky ride. A Lewis-Hughes collaboration album could easily be a career high for the both of them.