Photo by Max Norton.
Since exploding onto the scene in 2014 with a rambunctious eponymous debut album, Benjamin Booker is back with a refined songwriting approach and a live show that showcased his unique blend of blues, punk, soul and gospel. Much of the familiar rawness of Booker’s sound has grown into throwback melodies and distortion-heavy grooves that keep you dancing and keep you thinking.
Barely stopping long enough to shed his jacket after turning up the heat at the Mod Club, Booker roared through a 60-minute set that seamlessly weaved together his debut album and its critically acclaimed follow-up, Witness.
While the New Orleans-based Booker cut his teeth with a brand of hazy blues-rock that found him sharing the stage with the likes of Jack White, Witness shows his maturation as a songwriter and composer. On stage, Booker shares with his audience observations of a dystopian America rife with injustice through a defiant curiosity and a masterful command of a soulful sound that has evolved from chaotic to inquisitive in the three years since his debut.
Balancing his new material with punk rock bangers like “Violent Shiver” that featured prominently on Booker’s debut, one thing that has not changed is the raucous pace and contagious energy of his live performance. With minimal interaction, the audience followed the 28-year old’s signature gravelly voice through a frenetic, intimate set that covered nearly all of the poignant Witness, including a guest spot from Jessica Larrabee of opening act She Keeps Bees on the title track. Backed by his three-piece band, Booker deftly controlled the adrenaline level as he built up to crowd-pleasing closing tracks. Once the audience exhaled, the packed house was abuzz, as those in attendance had just laid witness to a special talent who has only begun to make his mark.
A riff-heavy opening set from Brooklyn duo She Keeps Bees reminiscent of the White Stripes got the audience warmed up and in the mood with a distinct retro flavour. Frontwoman Larrabee intertwined her songs with thought-provoking introductions and an endearing dedication to Gord Downie that certainly earned points with an engaged audience.