Benjamin Booker at Village Underground
The beauty of Benjamin Booker lies in contrast. The torrid, explosive noise with which his set starts is most poignantly underlined by his quieter moments, when his soft, lilting voice shows its vulnerability, cracking into occasional rasps as if overwhelmed by an uncontrollable bluesy force deep within.
Tonight is the last night of Ben’s tour in the UK. By 4th March he’ll be in Denmark, then whistling through the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and France before returning to the the other side of the pond for a string of gigs all over the country. He’s a busy man, but he comes across as your next-door neighbour (albeit in 50s New Orleans) – surprisingly softly spoken and simply dressed. Suffice to say, the road suits him, which is fortunate because he’ll have been on it for a long time by the time he makes it home.
Sonically the band cannot be faulted. There is an intense chemistry between Booker and his drummer Max, whose drumming is so fiercely impassioned that the audience cannot help but be mesmerised. Alex, the bassist, is a relative newcomer – Max joined in the summer of 2013, and Alex in April 2014 – and the crowd can feel it. Ben and Max are the apex of intensity until towards the end of the set, when Alex brings out a violin. This is a game-changer.
There is a palpable thirst throughout, almost a collective yearning, for more of Booker’s quieter tracks. This is illustrated when two guys up front turn to each other after By the Evening and tearfully mouth “beautiful” to one another. Perhaps these tracks are so touching because of the context of rampant distortion in which they come to surface; contrast is key, and these are without a doubt the highlight of the evening. Unfortunately, the gig ends with a return to violent distortion and drawn-out sliding chords that have a few audience members looking up to the ceiling with a small sigh. Visible impatience is not something you hope to see at a gig like this.
There is a general buzz upon leaving the venue and a strong feeling that the tracks the crowd will take home with them are not the ones they came explicitly to see, but rather Ben’s gentler songs: his cover of Nina Simone’s Little Liza Jane and some unexpected country.
Photos: Zak Macro
For further information about Benjamin Booker and future events visit here.
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