Notes: Ben Watt with Bernard Butler @ Echoplex, June 13, 2014

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Ben Watt, best known stateside as half of beloved pop duo Everything but the Girl, made his Los Angeles debut as a solo artist last Friday. Touring in support of his well received new album, Hendra (Unmade Road), his first solo effort penned under his own name in 31 years, a melancholy, occasionally heartening, expertly crafted set of folky, sometimes mildly rocking songs, Watt played to a modest, appreciative seated Echoplex audience.

A large part of the draw for the evening no doubt (Watt himself would surely admit as much) was his principal collaborator on Hendra who was billed to accompany him on guitar, Bernard Butler. Now twenty odd years on since those classic early Suede years, Butler comes to us as nothing less than a contemporary legend, and a worthy partner to Watt, who thanked him from the stage both early and late in the set.

Backing himself on a variety of guitars drenched varying degrees of effect sheen, with a couple of departures over to the Rhodes piano, Watt played the bulk of the Hendra collection, his voice rich and warm throughout, singing lyrics that talk of loss and memories, often autobiographically, heavy with feeling (One line springs to mind: “I wish I’d studied harder, made something of myself”)

Butler’s contributions to Hendra, both on record and live, are integral to the songs. No superfluous embroidery riffing here; he weaves into the soul of each song, adding melody, sure, but also depths of feeling, that signature lead sound, alternately fuzzy and bright lead, just enough bite when needed.

There were occasional dips into Watt’s back catalog – the title track of North Marine Drive, that 1983 solo album; the set closer, “25th of December,” a mid 90′s Everything but the Girl favorite – and many between song prefaces, introductions and explanations that gave the evening a nice Storytellers sort of feel. The insights he shared about own work were deep and genuine and not the usual sort of banalities that emanate from singers these days. Given this gift of eloquence, is no wonder that he also comes to town with a new book newly published in the States, Romany and Tom, a memoir named after his parents.

Leaving us with the Hendra track “Spring,” he admitted that he knows his songs can be a bit of a downer, but that it is the resistance and survival response that he hopes comes across. It does.

Photo by Sung. Full photo set here.

Ben Watt | benwatt.com