Going in, it’s tempting to stereotype a guy like Benjamin Booker. After all, he’s young. He’s African American. He’s from below the Mason-Dixon Line. Ergo, he must be the “savior of the blues.” Or “the next Hendrix.” Or at least “the next Gary Clark Jr.”
Actually, he’s none of those things. What he is a totally sui generis artist whose diverse output is befitting of New Orleans, the city he now calls home. During his hourlong set at U Street Music Hall in DC on Monday night, Becker and his band — Nashville session bassist Alex Spoto and frenetic drummer Max Norton — conducted a crash course in American rock.
In fact, it seemed as if Booker broke down his performance into genre-skipping “micro sets.” He kicked off with some early rock numbers, before launching into the kind of hugely energetic proto-punk that always has a home in a DC basement. From there, he showed off his raspy vocal delivery with some soul-inflected tunes that wouldn’t be out of place at an Alabama Shakes show. Next, Norton took a break from his Levon Helm-meets-Keith Moon routine to pick up a mandolin, while Spoto grabbed a violin, and they transformed a couple tunes into back porch stompers.
Booker closed the main set — unsurprisingly — with “Violent Shiver,” the debut single off his self-titled album. That song, and its Chuck Berry-esque riff, has landed the band on Letterman, and won them some opening dates for Jack White.
But he wasn’t done. After a quick exit, Booker apologized for only having a dozen songs to call on (though, in truth, it wouldn’t kill them to play a cover or two) then roared into a fuzzy, feedback-laden rocker that ended with Booker leaving the stage to a hail of looping amp noise.
Booker’s chameleon-like style might not do him any favors when it comes to marketing his records — after all, how’s the industry going to pigeonhole him? But if Monday’s show is any indication, he’s going to have a helluva career as a live act.