Brett Dennen seems a perfect pop star for the "American Idol" age: His charisma as a performer disguises the blandness of his songs, and his odd appearance gives him instant underdog appeal. His meandering but winning set at Jammin' Java in Vienna on Monday night was a tribute to the mysterious grace and confidence of which stars are made, because there's certainly nothing special about his music. It's the kind of sunny ersatz jam-folk that could just easily be found in the throats of Jack Johnson or John Mayer or a half-dozen other soft-focus, junior-varsity troubadours.
But Dennen is a more intriguing package: He has the doughy, shapeless body of someone in the throes of a particularly cruel adolescence. A Muppet-like shag of red hair frames his face. His voice is squeaky and feminine -- eerily close to Tracy Chapman's. When he's singing, you can't take your eyes off him.
Dennen opened the show with the standard-issue lament "Ain't No Reason," from his 2006 "So Much More" album, and closed nearly two hours later with the exultant "Blessed," from his 2005 self-titled debut. In between came lots of guitar tuning and a negotiation with some overzealous dancers who rebelled against the venue's ill-advised decision to place rows of chairs in front of the stage at kneecap-crushing, back-twisting intervals -- "the chairs create a vibe, and we have to respect that vibe," Dennen said, speaking out, presumably, in favor of sitters' rights. Backing up Dennen were Steve Adams on bass and Randy Schwartz on drums, both better than solid, if a bit too eager given the laid-way- back vibe of Dennen's material.
-- Chris Klimek, Feb, 2007