Ben Ottewell @ Four5Nine
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Earlier in the week I text a mate of mine, letting him know I’ve got a spare ticket to see Ben Ottewell at Four5Nine. His response begins, “English Eddie Vedder, huh?”. On the night of the gig a different mate texts me to see what I’m doing, I tell him I’m going to see Ben Ottewell, best known as part of English group Gomez. His response: “he’s the one with the crazy, bluesy voice right?”.
Those two responses set the tone for the evening. Ottewell for his part is in Australia promoting his new album A Man Apart, his third solo album after Shaoes and Shadows (2011) and Rattleback (2014), a collection of well crafted songs driven by acoustic guitar. But more of Ottewell in a bit.
The evening starts with Buddy, the front man of the Californian group… um… Buddy, who has co-written a couple of tracks on Ottewell’s last two albums. As he weaves his way through the crowd en route to the stage you realise that the audience tonight is trending a little older. This is no surprise, but it does reassure anyone present that people there want to be there, and that no-one is going to talk during the gig, and if they do they’re going to get some very dirty looks.
Buddy takes us through half a dozen tracks including Say A Lot, which you may have heard at the tail end of an episode of Gray’s Anatomy as a guy gradually dies from a lack of a heart transplant. The songs pass by nicely enough, 11/22 is the clear standout but there is a lingering feeling that the acoustic renditions before us lack some of the hook of the full five-piece band treatment.
At the sensible mid-week time of 9:45 Ben Ottewell hits the stage and despite the fact that everyone present knows what they’re in for, as soon as the mouth opens and the booming vocals comes flowing out everyone is a little floored. It’s the kind of voice you’d expect from the love child of Nick Drake and Brian Blessed.
The set list kicks off with Steal Away and begins with a clear focus on A Man Apart, which is fine, you get the sense that the crowd isn’t just there to hear the odd Gomez track or two (which they will). Songs such as A Man Apart and Bones show Ottewell’s talent as a singer-songwriter, something perhaps overlooked in his time with the five-piece, multi vocalist Gomez.
Aside from roughly half of the new album Ottewell also pulls out some of the stronger, crowd pleasing tunes from his previous two solo efforts. Rattlebag instantly lifts the room 3-5% and Red Dress kind of smacks everyone in the face a little.
In between songs Ottewell displays his general British politeness with a voice that would be very welcomed in the audiobook community. Equal parts rough and soft, it’s a bit like watching an avalanche in slow motion.
The more casual fans in the crowd took a little solace in the familiarity of Gomez tracks Bring It On, Rhythm and Blues Alibi, Free To Run and Tijuana Lady. As good as they are there’s something a little weird about hearing the Gomez tracks without the contrast in vocals the other members usually provide. Tijuana Lady is the closer and isn’t victim to the same issue, given Ottewell assumes the full vocal in the Gomez version.
At the end of the evening Ottewell and Buddy make themselves available for a chat with fans, half of which take up the offer and share a handshake and a photo. The other half head off to home because it is a school night after all, and they have to teach in the morning.