Ben Watt kicked off his current UK & Ireland tour in Brighton last night and he did so with both style and substance. Joined by Rex Horan on acoustic/electric bass and vocal harmonies, Makoto Sakamoto on drums and the guitar maestro Bernard Butler, Watt moved from electric to acoustic guitar onto Wurlizer electric piano while delivering a well sequenced set that was a satisfying balance of light and shade. The tunes were mostly from Watt’s last two albums (this year’s Fever Dream and 2014’s Hendra) but there were also some Everything But The Girl tracks as well as a few early solo works.
Asked how I’d describe Watt’s music I disinterestedly responded with the almost meaningless “alt-folk” cliché, but then I always opine if you can describe someone’s music with a short, slick label then it can’t be up to much. Ben’s own description is “folk-jazz and distorted, strings-bent rock” which is pretty accurate if not quite “EMO” in brevity.
Watt is an engaging host: inviting us to enjoy ourselves and frequently recounting the background context or genesis of the songs, which adds to the atmosphere. His vocals are pitch perfect and without ornament combining with Butler’s cutting guitar to float and bob on the rhythm section’s lithe, dynamic pulse. It feels complete: the right mixture of the familiar and the fresh. The jazz influence is especially apparent in the older tunes and this provides an agreeable contrast to some of the more recent material which tends to rock more. Deep songs, dramatic guitars, pulsating bass and drums, played with energy and purpose – yes, we have some quality music here. Onstage at 8:30 and leaving us at 10:15 the band’s well measured set made for a very enjoyable Sunday night and a great start to the tour. Props to the engineer too, as the sound in the venue was pristine.