Sunday, June 22, 2008

When Cute Boys Pick Up Guitars

Last Thursday (June 19), I got to catch show featuring singer-songwriter Phil Bensen and pop/rock band Sparky's Flaw at Maxwell's in Hoboken. Walking into the small Jersey venue, I wasn't too sure what to expect.

As Phil Bensen walked on stage, you can feel the small crowd of teen/tween girls, who came to see him that night, silently blushing and giggling. Scratching your head as you look at this familiar face? Well, if you're a fan of a popular band of brothers by the name of Jonas, he's opened for them. (Enter high pitched screams here...) The Jersey native kicked off his set with a sweet acoustic solo and set the mood for chill show. Moving with a swagger that he refers to as "the white man sway," Bensen's music is light on the ears but has a presence that resonates with you. Songs like "A Little Respect" show off his Motown/blusey influences and give a different dynamic to this young musician. His smooth voice and even more fluid falsetto are reminiscent of Jason Mraz, and that's definitely not a bad thing.
"Bruised" has a nice pop feel to the strong, and it's melody has elements that sound a bit like the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" — a song he's been known to cover at his shows, including this one. And you know how I love covers. After playing a fun set with his band, Bensen went back to playing solo — taking requests from the crowd. Taking a fan's immediate and very enthusiastic request, he played "Paper Airplanes", a ballad that obviously made all the girls swoon. But what made it better was the nice transition into a quick rendition of John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane". Phil Bensen is not only a charismatic performer with a short list of jokes. His free-flowing music and effortless voice bring a smile to your face.

Although I didn't catch Bensen at this year's Bamboozle, I did see Virginia-based Sparky's Flaw. After catching Red Jumpsuit Apparatus at one stage, I floated over to one of the smaller stages where I found a band who'd probably be one of my favorite finds of the year.

Sparky's Flaw may play pop music, but they're not synchronized choreography, coordinating outfits and oozing cheesy lyrics. They write the songs and play the music — and good music at that. Sparky's Flaw sounds like a hybrid of some of today's popular bands like The Fray and Maroon 5. And although there is a commonality this band shares with some of their influences, Sparky's Flaw take pop/rock and make it their own whether its Kit French's sax skills or Will Anderson's soothing yet edgy vocals.For me, what usually makes an amazing performance is if a band is able to sound even better live than on the recording, and this band does just that. "Words Meet Heartbeats" was already a favorite of mine, but seeing (and hearing) the fusion of the eerie synth in the beginning welding with uptempo beat and harmony of voices made the song an even memorable one. That can also be said about "Under Control", which has undertones of Maroon 5 — not necessarily a bad thing.

What makes the band even more enjoyable to watch is that they're all so comfortable onstage — as if you're sitting in on a jam session. The band ended their set with "New Year", an upbeat track where the guys get to rock out. Watching them play this song shows just how much fun Sparky's Flaw has on stage. There's a sheer genuine vibe that emits from each one of them and together as a band. And even though there was a blip during "New Year", the guys took it like pros and played as if nothing happened.

If it hasn't hit you yet from the the headline, these guys are definitely easy on the eyes. But it's not all about a pretty face. And for Phil Bensen and Sparky's Flaw, they're definitely more than just eye candy, they're great musicians who create music that leaves you wanting more.

Both Phil Bensen and Sparky's Flaw will be playing NYC's Knitting Factory on Wednesday, June 25. Visit TicketWeb to grab your tix.

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