Any musician or performer who plies the audience with beers is likely to be a success, but that was one small aspect of what was an electric set from Benjamin Booker in the historic Clwb Ifor Bach this weekend. The man who hails from Virginia gave a diverse and captivating performance on the last leg of the UK-Europe tour for his self-titled debut, released in August, in Cardiff with the accompaniment of two equally uncompromising backing band members.
With support from the promising, blues-ridden mod revivalists Hidden Charms, Mr Booker tore through with a palpable, frenetic energy with over-distorted guitar and crashing drum – it was a triumphant end to a nationwide tour for the young American.
Starting the night off with some of his higher-pace songs, the gig was a constant thrum of growling vocals and thunderous guitar with each song giving Booker the opportunity to break out from trance-like states into a wild ball of energy. The reception to a relatively small name in the contemporary rock scene from the Cardiff crowd was as enthusiastic as any Sunday night turn out could be, consistently being elevated by the band’s all-giving approach to the gig.
A surprising turn came when the bass guitar was swapped for a violin, the drums for a mandolin and the guitar for exclusivity with the microphone – things were taken down a notch in tempo as the man endorsed by one Jack White serenaded the crowd in his husky style to a foot-stomping number that wouldn’t be out of place at some southern evening barn dance.
The show then returned to its overwhelming energy for the final round of songs, the highlight of which being Violent Shiver, arguably one of Booker’s more accessible and memorable singles. A driving rendition that wasn’t prepared to wait for anybody who wasn’t ready, it served as a precursor to an instrumental finale which felt like five different songs rolled into a 10 minute space, crammed with deafening drums, rumbling bass and distorted feedback in between wild solos.
If there were to be one criticism of the show it would be that perhaps in all the cloud of distortion and chaos that Benjamin Booker brings to the table some part of the sound is compromised and you find yourself caught in a mess of feedback and cymbals. That said, the energy displayed by the trio was nothing short of incredible – it was a genuine rock performance from people who were as equally enthusiastic for the music they played as they were competent whilst playing.
A man who generates great excitement and shows such promise at the age of 25, Booker showed that he is a man of the people when it comes to music by consistently joking with the crowd and breaking out cans of beer for those who were dancing at the front – something of a contrast to the all-consuming frontman who demonstrated an intensity and nonchalance when caught up in the heat of his own compositions.