11pm on Maundy Thursday and a four-day weekend loomed. I can’t say I was sober when I stumbled into the Union Hotel in Newtown in Sydney’s inner west. The joint was packed, all eyes fixed on a skinny troubadour bellowing back at them. I grabbed a beer and took a seat way down at the back with the intention of chatting to a mate. Another friend leaned in: “This is a Guided By Voices cover, y’know!”. Indeed it was: “Teenage FBI”. But the next song, “West End Girls”, an original, had this accidental show go-er slack-jawed by the second verse.
So went my first exposure to Ben Salter, a musician that Google reports has been a staple of the Australian music scene for over ten years: solo but also as a member of The Gin Club, Giants of Science and The Wilson Pickers.
In the studio, he keeps esteemed company. His 2011 solo album The Cat was produced by Drones front-man Gareth Liddiard. The front half of the album sees a trio of flickering-flame strum-along songs give way to the instrumental “German Tourist”, after which Salter slows the pace and ups the instrumental simplicity for the broodier “West End Girls” and “I’m Not Ashamed”. On record, Salter sounds closer to Josh Pyke than when playing live, where his songs’ intensity is multiplied and his voice pitches itself somewhere between Mark Eitzel (American Music Club) and Colin Meloy (The Decemberists).
Salter rounded out this Union Hotel gig with covers of Neil Young’s “World On A String” (which I dug) and Smokey Robison’s “The Tracks Of My Tears” (which I didn’t). Two nights later at Petersham Bowling Club, Salter gave a similarly impressive – but less intimate – performance. He ditched the Young cover and slayed several audience members with a run through Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City”; easily the match of the original. Yes, seriously.
Don’t let this talk of covers put you off. They’re the hook that net new fans; and I’ll bet they’ll snag you too.
Further information: Ben Salter