Ben Salter: Ben Salter Live
- I've always had a lot of time for Ben Salter, whatever he's doing. Be it thundery rock with The Giants Of Science, the easy-going country charm of The Wilson Pickers, the superb folk-country-pop of the much lauded Gin Club, or his solo work, undoubtedly my favourite of the lot. He can even move away from me, down to Melbourne and although I may shed a few tears, I will be no less devoted. Having toughed it out in the - let's face it - not very musical burg that Brizvegas is for so long, may go some way to explaining the rather dour outlook Ben presents but moving to Australia's music-Mecca doesn't seem to be making him smile very much more often. It has, however, given him the opportunity to show his seemingly permanently downcast mug at any number of residencies, for The Tote, Pure Pop Records, The Retreat, The Wesley Anne and, last but not least, Bar Nancy. Bar Nancy it was, on a luridly hot evening, rather Brisbanesque actually, that Ben recorded three sets and pieced them together into what is an epic live album. Simply titled Ben Salter Live, it comprises every song from from his recent solo album, The Cat, a large number of tunes from The Gin Club's repertoire and enough covers for an album by themselves. The Cat, as a solo album, was already a good opportunity for Ben to strip off the accoutrements of a band and bare his wretched soul to the world. Still, together with Gareth Liddiard in the role of producer, the pair managed to put together a very rich and fleshed out sound. None of that here though. It's not just the album's more bizarre companions - swedish bagpipes, hurdy gurdy and saxophone - that have taken a holiday, everything is cut right back, nearly to the bone. For the most part you'll hear just Ben and his acoustic guitar and the crowd murmuring in the background. Some of his most iconic recent numbers, The Cat and The Coward are right up the front and, as good as the originals were, the stark emptiness of this performance has a beauty that is all it's own. Ben's quite lyrical voice, with just a touch of corrupting gravel, delivers what was always the best thing about his songwriting: the lyrics, with wrenching poignancy. "A cat watching the birds fly through the sky, is resigned / That most things will escape him, before he dies / And for every bird he manages to bring down, to the ground / A thousand more will fly away, never to be found / And so it seems to me as I watch this tortoise shell / That to fly it must be heaven, for the watching, it is hell / And for every accomplishment and every victory / There's a thousand other moments of such wretched drudgery." Tell me that is not magnificent. Sometimes Ben makes do with less even than just a guitar, such as when he does The Gin Club's Wylde Bitch acapella, does a nice job, too. OK, just for the record, grudgingly I will admit I heard a single tambourine, from time to time. The selection of covers is respectable, interesting cuts from Sam Cooke, The Velvet Underground, Neil Young and Guided By Voices, among others. The best known one, Smokey Robinson's Tracks Of My Tears is delivered with just about more passion than I can believe; definitely one to check out. The production and cutting together of the different pieces is rough, almost uncaring, there's even a bit of crowd banter savagely cut in half, earlier on, don't know what that was about. Speaking of crowd banter, what there is of it is very much like Ben. He mentions that the performance is being 'recorded for posterity', then makes an unfunny joke, saying 'that means it's good for your back'. Nobody laughs and Ben says desolately 'we'll dub the laugh track in later'. That made me chuckle. There's just a couple of new songs, hidden amongst the other twenty four. First you'll hear the slow, touching sadness of I Gotta Move, a subtle song about the urge to abandon things and the damage it causes. Although that's hardly a picnic, it is as nothing compared to the heartbreaking recriminations of I Can't Live Like This Anymore. Beautiful, but incredibly sad. I hope that Ben, busy with overseas touring right now, finds a happier home than he has done up until now, musically and otherwise. Listening to him is... actually worrying, sometimes. If that has a silver lining then I suppose it is that, whatever the personal cost, whenever Ben Salter puts pen to paper or songs down on record, it is everyone's very great gain.
- Chris Cobcroft.
PS As far as I know this is only available on Ben's bandcamp site, at present.