Colchester Arts Centre
They might share a name with Morticia's dapper husband in The Adams Family, but tonight favoured content over sartorial style. Bespectacled singer Ben Ottewell - one of the bands three lead vocalists - had clearly decided to give the rock star threads a miss, but when he launched into the opening lines of "Get Miles" you couldn't question that he's found his vocation. The earthy rasp that bubbled up from his diaphragm had the oomph of Captain Beefheart and the huskiness of Mariella Frostrup. It was 's secret weapon; the gripping centrepiece of a sonic fresco which included sweetly clunking percussion, scuzzy bluegrass grooves, and heaps of loose and rootsy electric guitar.
Perhaps led by the music press's near unanimous adoration of , the audience in this beautiful converted church were attentive to the point of fixation. The band's average age is just 22, but as their superb debut album Bring It On testifies, they play with the seasoned confidence of wizened bluesmen. Thus, even when the eyes confirmed that none of them was black, blind or geriatric, the ears were slow to take the information on board.
The band's sense of humour - something which has been somewhat overlooked thus far - was evident when "Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone" was reinvented as "Love Is Better Than Dry-Roasted Peanuts", and when multi- instrumentalist Tom Gray dedicated songs to both Mariah Carey and George Michael. Gray, who flitted from keyboards, to acoustic guitar, to bass, seemed the most comfortable with his audience, but given that this date was part of 's first headlining tour, one wouldn't want to be overly critical of some of the other members' nascent stagecraft.
"Tijuana Lady", in which Gray suggested that we imagine we were in an old Catholic church down Mexico way, was an early stand out. Paul Blackburn's switch from bass to acoustic guitar highlighted fluidity of roles within the band, and as the song rolled into its funereal coda section, the tension was redolent of a spaghetti western shoot-out.
Later, "Rie's Wagon", which grew and grew into a dub-infused wall of fractured sound, featured some tasteful harmonica from guitarist and co- lead vocalist Ian Ball, and some incendiary, Ben Harper-like slide guitar from Ottewell. It was this song, together with their skewed-disco reworking of "Whippin Piccadilly" which best illustrated ' gleeful willingness to experiment. There are aspects of their live show which still need a little fine-tuning, but for effortless cool, they're hard to beat.
James McNairReuse content