(11 Jun 2014: Joe's Pub New York)
Ben Watt’s second album Hendra was released thirty years after his first, North Marine Drive. That is not to suggest that he was sitting on his laurels for those decades or that he had writer’s block. Watt and (his now wife) Tracey Thorn released several albums before the end of the ‘90s as Everything but the Girl, which he followed up with the Lazy Dog DJ project (with Jay Hannan) before finally going all in as the head honcho behind two record labels, the electronic / house imprint Buzzin Fly and the more indie rock Strange Feelings. Watt also published two books, Patient, about his battle with a rare, life-threatening illness, and the just-released, Romany and Tom: A Memoir, an honest look at his parents and growing up. While Watt did host a book launch event that included a few songs post-discussion the night before, his first true solo shows were the next two nights at Joe’s Pub. Watt was in the US to promote Hendra, with ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler playing alongside him, via radio interviews like this one for WNYC’s Soundcheck and a few performances in New York and in Los Angeles.
Both shows at Joe’s Pub sold out quickly as friends and fans were eager to catch Watt on stage (original April dates were pushed back due to visa issues). Butler, whose guitar work is also featured on Hendra, is a crucial piece of Watt’s music. Mac Randall at the New York Observer has noted, “you can hear how well the two mesh on Hendra’s title track. Watt sings in the voice of a character weighed down by doubt and insecurity; when Butler takes over in the middle, he taps into that character’s sublimated rage at the world and himself.” Butler’s guitar is very distinctly percussive during “Nathaniel”, reflecting a more blunt angle of anguish in the lyrics that is more deliberately covered up in the vocals. “Golden Ratio” became a summery diversion from some of the other darker tunes with it’s bossa-nova guitar vibe and the character joyful that he was alive. Watt’s intimate set included the title song from his first album, one newer unreleased song and closed with EBTG track, “25th December” with the singer alternating between guitar and keyboard/piano as he performed. Interspersed between the songs were some ruminations behind the sorrowful Hendra tunes, influenced in no small part by the grief of the loss of his half-sister Jennie (just before Watt finished the book). The poignant stories crafted in the songs lingered on well after the show had finished.
Keep an ear tuned to Watt’s site as some more interviews and footage from his US trip is expected to be posted but for now visit PopMatters’ Facebook for a larger gallery of images!
Young Man’s Game
Brick AND Wood
North Marine Drive
Some Things Don’t Matter
The Heart is a Mirror
Upcoming US Tour Dates:
Tue 07/15/14 Philadelphia, PA Tin Angel
Wed 07/16/14 Vienna, VA Jammin’ Java
Thu 07/17/14 Toronto, ON Drake Hotel / Underground
Fri 07/18/14 Chicago, IL Old Town School Of Folk Music
Sat 07/19/14 Minneapolis, MN Bryant Lake Bowl Theater
Mon 07/21/14 Seattle, WA Columbia City Theatre