An Englishman Sits, Strums and Sings

February 14th, 2011

Ben Ottewell – Mercury Lounge – February 11, 2011

Ben Ottewell, one of the vocalist-guitarists in Gomez, has a new solo album, Shapes & Shadows. So on Friday at Mercury Lounge, he said, “I’m gonna play a lot of stuff off the new record.” Since that disc is only out in the UK and has yet to be released here, he quickly added, “But I don’t know if anyone here has it.” (He was later excited to discover the new LP was available at the merch table.) Seated, Ottewell proceeded to play guitar, sing and chat about things like the Grammys and some guy at Ben’s Pizzeria who’d said, “You better play some of that deep shit.”

Ottewell opened with the new album’s title track, and his voice proved to be the star of the show over the course of the next hour. During that time, the crowd was respectful yet playful. When someone shouted out, “Play a Neil Young cover,” Ottewell replied, “I did last night. I played Carnegie Hall. Now I’m here.” He then grinned and said, “Moving on up.” Later, noting those hanging on his every word, he added, “It’s so nice to play in a place where people listen.”

The rest of the set included new stuff, like “Lightbulbs” and “Blackbird,” a B-side, “The Best in Town,” and Nick Drake, Jackson Browne and, yes, Neil Young covers. Just a few notes into Young’s “Unknown Legend,” the crowd reaction was so strong (“No way!” exclaimed someone in the back) the taken aback singer actually stopped playing and said, “No?” But the resounding “Yes!” in response was all he needed. Ottewell finished with the popular Gomez tune “How We Operate” but the crowd didn’t budge, so he “dipped into that deep shit” once more and finished with “Pick Up the Pieces.” —R. Zizmor