Brett Dennen – Music Box (Los Angeles, CA)
After opening at arenas for the likes of John Mayer earlier this year, one would think Brett Dennen would be capable of putting on a very engaging live show. Notwithstanding the adoration of a few throngs of college-aged coeds, Dennen showed he has a long way to go before moving on to larger venues himself.
Throughout his 90-minute set, Dennen and his simple backup band of guitar, bass and drums constantly seemed overmatched in this three-quarters-full theater. His latest album, So Much More, has won him acclaim with its hushed intimacy and Dennen’s powerful, smoky voice, qualities which were overshadowed on this evening. Instead of the folkie genuineness of Paul Simon, Dennen and his band seemed content to strive for the tired acoustic faux-soul of Jack Johnson and Donavon Frankenreiter. But those artists have achieved their success because they back up their tunes with ample charisma and subtle strength. Dennen was in need of both.
Shambling around onstage with an awkward aloofness, Dennen was a bit unclear in his objective. The music was too loping and thin to inspire dancing, yet Dennen felt compelled to repeatedly encourage the crowd to do so, half-heartedly. With the intimacy of the recordings removed, the songs came across as shallow renderings; Dennen and band failed to provide the punch and vigor to get the party going. Even the standout cuts from the record were given curious treatment: The marvelous “Ain’t No Reason” was slowed to a muddy plod, and “There Is So Much More” never really got off the ground.
There were definitely flashes of potential — a solo acoustic tune to start the encore was a clear highlight — but otherwise, Dennen and his cohorts insisted on reaching too far. I couldn’t help but wonder how enjoyable a quiet, acoustic show would have been in the mid-sized theater. But if Dennen and band continue to go this route and don’t bulk up their sound, I can only imagine the venues getting smaller.