Ben Caplan and the Casual Smokers live @ Water Rats
Ben Caplan took a quick detour from his European tour to play a one-off gig at London‘s Water Rats venue. A newcomer to the UK music scene, Caplan made a big impression on the grapevine of this year’s Great Escape festival in Brighton; rumours of a grizzly bear fronting a raucous gypsy klezmer folk band inspired yours truly into further investigation.
Caplan utilises a megaphone for the purpose of summoning the punters from the bar into the venue’s live quarters for the start of tonight’s performance, perhaps unnecessarily – Ben Caplan is very conspicuous to the eyes and ears, his unruly hedgerow of curly beard losing only to his music in the impressiveness stakes.
Infusing earthy, bawdy folk with bluesy undertones and the seemingly recurrent appearance of the Devil, Ben Caplan roars and rasps his melodies with a booming voice that shakes the dust off every last rafter in the house. Looking like a man sent back from the wild, he delivers delightful love songs and shanties with an imposing charisma that is impossible to ignore. His eccentricity belies his gift for carefully articulating his humanity, and soon his audience is spellbound.
Also worthy of mention are his band of Casual Smokers. They are a wonderful complement to the spectacle, lending new layers to songs already imbued with astute story telling. In particular, the sprightly virtuoso Jaron Freeman-Fox‘s ability to transform the violin into a new instrument altogether will have you suspecting that, like Paganini and Robert Johnson before him, he may well have sold his soul for his craft. Ben Caplan has something of the bard, and his compelling performance is enhanced by a pleasant revelation: behind the thick-rimmed glasses and gravelly voice is a likeable entertainer. Whether regaling us with anecdotes about sex, life on the road or slightly risque political humour, Caplan‘s banter is funny and endearing. His infectious enthusiasm helps him pull off a rare feat for a new artist in London – soon nearly the entire audience starts singing on command to the post-coital blues of ‘I Got Me A Woman‘, and then screaming at lung capacity for an exercise in ‘Ben Caplan Cathartic Yoga‘ – indisputable proof he’s somehow bear-hugged us all into abandon with his off-beat charm.
Caplan returns for two encores but the crowd is still left asking for more. It seems a stroke of luck to have attended a show in one of London’s smaller venues, because he seems destined for greater things – this one-of-a-kind artist deserves a much wider audience in the UK, so catch him while you can.
Ben will be supporting fellow Cougar Microbes favourites Katzenjammer later this month. We have one pair of tickets to give away for any of the UK shows. Head over here for more info.