If Benjamin Booker isn’t a name that rings any bells for you, you’re probably in good—if not fairly unfortunate—company. He’s only barely released an album and seems to stay far away from the hype machine.
And if you’re among the unfamiliar but curious sorts that gathered into The Social on Wednesday night, seeing him and the other two members of his band (drummer Max Norton and bassist Alex Spoto) amble out onto a fairly empty stage, you probably weren’t even very excited by that, either. Why would you be?
Then he plays the first note of his guitar. Then he starts unleashing some holy terror (aka songs) on his microphone. And that light bulb crackles and blinks on above your head and you get it: Benjamin Booker is a goddamn musical force to be reckoned with.
Something you learn fairly quickly seeing Benjamin play live is that, well, you might not get to understand many of the words he’s singing. It might even take a few songs to get used to that. Seeing and hearing him perform, though, isn’t so much about taking in a bunch of words strung together, but feeling the ferocity in how they’re delivered. You don’t need close captioning to understand the passion he offers up.
I could try and explain Benjamin’s voice, but I’d likely fail in the attempt. But screw it, here goes: his voice, his instrument, is a raspy yawp that he wields as recklessly as possible. Or perhaps he’s reining it in and failing? Which is to say, he sounds as curiously old as he does brand new, as drenched in swampy blues as he is buoyed by old-fashioned rock. He toes the line between genres, promptly ignores it and rebrands it to suit his purposes better.
The songs that you may have known going into the show are still the same ones that sound the best in concert. Here’s your homework, if you haven’t already taken on the challenge: go snooping around your computer until you’re able to scare up “Violent Shiver” and “Have You Seen My Son?” Make sure you have really loud speakers to accommodate your happy discovery. Proceed to play the songs at maximum volume. Writhe and dance along with the tunes. Repeat. Repeat again.
An added highlight of being at the Orlando show was seeing Benjamin do whatever he wanted to do, claiming the territory as his own. It was his show, after all—we just happened to be there to scream in his general direction. So if he wanted to bum a smoke from someone in front, sit down with his back to the guy and smoke away, he did that as long as he wanted to. When he wanted to fall off the stage and run around some, he did that, too. He even went into an extended jam on stage that involved a toppled over microphone stand and some extended jamming c/o his crew. It seemed to go on for 15 minutes. We ate it up. We loved it, too.
Ah, the benefits of doing exactly what you want to do exactly they way you want to do it. Life lessons by Benjamin Booker? Why not? Observe, enjoy, read between the lines and figure it out.
Do yourself a favor next time you see his name pop up on the Orlando calendar. No matter what day of the week it is and no matter where this guy’s playing, put his show on your TO DO list and commit to it like this guy commits himself to his craft. To witness Benjamin Booker in a live setting is to experience an untapped natural resource of NOLA-flavored joy. And you could stand to use some more of that joy stuff in your life.
Benjamin Booker Live Review by Dainon Moody.
Benjamin Booker Live Photos by Dena Davis.
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