Benjamin Booker’s Frayed Edges Show in Otherwise Tight Set

The Bunkhouse Saloon, April 16

Garage-bluesman Benjamin Booker earned wild praise last year for his self-titled full-length, which showcased his raspy-raw vocal style and riff-bashing guitar attack. After a year of relentless touring, Booker’s first Las Vegas performance seemed a bit frayed at times—rawness edging into weariness, riffs lapsing into Ramones-like repetition. Overall, though, the stellar musicianship of his band (drummer Max Norton, bassist Alex Spoto) carried him across the finish line. Opening with rollicking “Always Waiting,” the band confirmed that it harnesses explosive power, that it can quickly seize an audience’s attention. Wearing a black denim jacket sporting a raised power fist, Booker confidently ripped through boogie-swinging “Chippewa,” backed by Spoto’s strutting, low-end support and Norton’s raucous percussion. The evening’s highlight followed, namely the hard-charging “Old Hearts,” an anthemic rocker ideal for highway driving with the car windows down. Sure, we could have done without an interminable version of folk standard “Little Liza Jane,” and minus an invitation to attention-whoring goofballs in the crowd to come onstage and crack dumb jokes. (What is this, Star Search?) But all was well again once pounding, holler-along-worthy “Violent Shiver” began to shake, rattle and roll the club’s foundation. The end of the set was an unsatisfying, messy cacophony that betrayed the band’s stripped-clean, soulful approach, reflecting road-exhaustion more than anything. Booker was on his way to play both weekends at Coachella? Hope he got some rest. ★★★✩✩

Set list:
Always Waiting
Old Hearts
Happy Homes
Kids Never Growing Older
Falling Down Blues
Slow Coming
Little Liza Jane
Shout Bamalama
Spoon Out My Eyeballs
Wicked Waters
Violent Shiver
Have You Seen My Son?
By the Evening


Vegas Seven