Reggie Watts

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

The first thing you notice is the hair; a huge fuzzy black sphere of a barnet that makes Reggie Watts look like a human microphone, complete with furry wind guard.

It’s an apt analogy, given this quirky Brooklynite’s musical pedigree – although to call him a musical comedian would be to grossly understate the case. He’s more of a sound sculptor, creating complex audio art.

Which brings us on to the second thing you notice: his incredibly mellifluous voice, with its range as wide as the Rockies – from a laconic mumble to a sultry soul king, from a devastatingly accurate colloquial English to Arabic ululating. Looping his lyrics, his beatbox-style backing rhythms and occasionally a keyboard, he layers up the tracks to build landscapes through which he can meander.

The comedy in part, comes through this apparently shambolic, freeform style. How much of the material he performed at this one-off London show was improvised, and how was planned is impossible to gauge, but Watts certainly has the lightness of touch to make it all seem off the cuff. In a similar way to Ross Noble, the mildly weird stream-of-conscious meandering is enjoyable, but it’s the sudden left-turns his blether takes that spark the laughs.

Much of the appeal lies in the fact he’s doing very much what most of us would do if we suddenly had his talent and his technology. Sure, we might hope to create grand opuses, but on day one we’d arse about, making silly noises into the effects boxes and spouting nonsense just to hear the sound of our own voice. At 39, Watts hasn’t grown out of that, making his performance as endearing as a child’s.

But although his combination of ability without discipline is what makes Watts the engaging presence he is, it also means the show is patchy. There are frequent moments when his ramblings are a bit too soporific, or the audience is asked to tolerate a digression too far.

Yet he’ll snap out of it with some sharp vocal characterisations – one minute channelling the Katt Williams style of sassy black comedian, the next a hippy espousing humanity’s unified consciousness. A sort of earnest muso-speak is his favourite trope, and at times the show feels like you’ve fallen asleep to 6 Music, with meaningless snatches of arcane conversation infiltrating your semi-conscious brain – even if here, again, he can get too self-indulgent.

Despite the laid-back vibe, there’s no escaping the fact that the sharper segments tend to be the best. For his encore, he beds downs an irresistible soul groove for a smooth and pacy trot through his vocal talents, which gels perfectly and is constantly witty, underlining just how loose much of the rest of the show is.

An honourable mention too, for Watts’s physicality, which is a huge asset. The way he makes makes his sturdy frame move to the music awkwardly yet strangely elegantly is a neat contradiction and adds to the easy charm.

But this is only an adjunct to the genius – albeit a lazy one – of his musicianship. With his unique creativity, he’s certainly taken the one-man band concept a long way...

Review date: 24 Jan 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Roundhouse

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