Ben Ottewell’s vocals are the defining characteristic of Gomez. So imagine our surprise when he told us that his bandmates treat him like the “new” boy because he was the last one to join. Never mind the last sixteen years, they had all grown up together. At Ottewell’s show at the Basement he wore the folk troubadour badge and entertained us with Gomez covers plus cuts from his solid, debut solo record and other tracks.
Over the course of the evening Ottewell would keep things simple and devoted his time between one of two acoustic guitars. This really allowed his vocals to shine. Even Wikipedia makes note of his “deep, raspy voice” and “gravely baritone”.
The fact is that Ottewell is naturally blessed with vocal chords that parallel musical greats like Eric Burdon, Robert Plant and John Fogerty, to name a few. Ottewell may be 43 years old but his voice sounds like a far older, tortured bluesmen – one drenched in experience and peppered by a life of whiskey, women and wanting (and only some of that may be applicable!)
The set commenced with a cover of Nick Drake’s “Black Eyed Dog”. This one sounded like the equivalent of a home-ward bound walk into the sunset. The Gomez track, “Free To Run” followed and was a good, albeit stripped-back version before Ottewell upped the romance with some “Shapes & Shadows”. The title track from his solo album could have been by Josh Pyke and one male punter summed it up best when he declared it, “Beautiful”.
In Gomez’s “Get Miles” Ottewell turned the song’s catchy riff into the foundations of a pure pop ditty. He also road-tested the new song, “Patience & Rosaries”, which had a dark undercurrent that made it not too far removed – at least sonically – from most of the tracks on his debut effort.
“Blackbird” was like a light and golden apology before Ottewell was joined by Shane Reilly on the pedal steel guitar. Ottewell joked that the instrument could also have been a knitting machine or a maths problem. The additional player added a country, prairie flavour to “All Brand New”. But it was pure blues on “Hamoa Beach” and this one boasted what we assume contains both Ottewell and his Gomez colleagues’ diverse array of influences.
The set highlight was a cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”. This was sheer bliss and so good it sent shivers up my spine. It was also a very similar rendition to the angelic cover performed by a young Michael Jackson on The Stripped Mixes album. Ottewell then brought the show home with a bunch of Gomez favourites including: “How We Operate” and perhaps the best band track to translate into the acoustic environment, “78 Stone Wobble”, before an encore of “Tijuana Lady” a “Song about a lady from Mexico”.
Ben Ottewell’s show had been a quiet and pleasant flip through the songbooks by this raspy man and a few of his influences and loves. The Englishmen played some fine guitar and was a real sweet troubadour. He kept us entertained with some stellar song choices but it was his unique and frankly powerful voice that left us all leaning in and wanting more.
Ben Ottewell’s Sydney set list:
1. Black Eyed Dog (originally performed by Nick Drake)
2. Free To Run (originally performed by Gomez)
3. Shapes & Shadows
4. Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone
5. Get Miles (originally performed by Gomez)
6. Patience & Rosaries
8. All Brand New
9. Hamoa Beach (originally performed by Gomez)
10. Little Pieces (originally performed by Gomez)
11. Step Right Back
12. Ain’t No Sunshine (originally performed by Bill Withers)
13. How We Operate (originally performed by Gomez)
14. 78 Stone Wobble (originally performed by Gomez)
15. Not Fade Away (originally performed by The Crickets)
16. Tijuana Lady (originally performed by Gomez)
Originally published on 13 July 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/ben-ottewell-the-basement-sydney-11-07-13
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