Something that I love about true rock-n-roll music is that it is unapologetically its own. Meaning that those who play, play the way that they want. They don’t let themselves get told what to do and they certainly don’t fall victim to getting forced into one genre or another. They are rebels, they are their own people, they posses their art with fierce bravery and that is the place where magic happens.
Benjamin Booker burst on the music scene with a sound and an attitude that caught on fire. Pulling inspiration that is equal parts blues, punk and straight up rock, Booker has found a place in the scene that needed some rebel attitude. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that between his back-to-back Coachella performances this month he was stopping in at The Observatory in Santa Ana to play their Constellation Room. The room is intimate and there’s no pit so you can get right up to the stage and even reach out and touch the performer if you want, but let’s try not being too creepy.
When Booker and his band took the stage a few girls in the front certainly looked like they wanted to reach out and touch him as he started playing, “Always Waiting,” which is a jangly blues-rock song, but they stayed calm and refrained. From there he rolled through several more tracks off his self-titled album, but honestly he seemed half asleep while performing these. There wasn’t the energy you would expect these songs to inspire in a live performance. I looked around and the audience seemed half dead too. What was going on? As if reading my mind Booker says, “I know you’re a California crowd but you can’t be cool all the time. That shit is exhausting. Don’t do it.” He then instructed everyone to sing the chorus to the standard “Little Liza Jane.” The crowd complied with an over zealous eagerness that had them singing the chorus right over the verse. That caused Booker to chuckle and with that we were finally off to the rock-n-roll races. And thank the gods for Booker calling the crowd out because he kept laying down lightening bolt performances that were certainly worthy of some energetic praise.
While on his tip toes with his mouth literally resting on the mic he was awake and spitting out grungy, fuzzy and at times folky, sounds that kept surprising and impressing the crowd. Booker has a distinct voice that goes from a raspy whisper to a rebel yell just as the instruments build from a walking pace to a flat out sprint. He and his band played with a great synchronization that finally worked its gritty magic keeping the cool kids stomping their feet and rocking their heads through the set.
Between songs he left a lot of room for improve where he filled in with reverb and distortion. It was a little heavy for my taste, but it worked. I appreciated the experimentation and his fearlessness to push the envelope even as one fan yelled, “enough of that distortion shit.” Booker didn’t care though, he completely stayed true to his aesthetic through the set including on covers like “Shout Bamalama” and “Falling Down Blues.” He is a true rock-n-roll badass not bending to the whims of fans or anyone else. That attitude and his quick playing and inventive genre blending is what makes Booker’s sound compelling both live and in the headset.
So hey, if you’re headed to Coachella this weekend or looking to see a rock-n-roll show I would mark Benjamin Booker in red ink, highlighter, circles, stars and lightening bolts as a MUST SEE. He will give you a violent rock-n-roll shiver, I promise.
Words: Anne-Marie Schiefer
Photography: Lindsay Wiles
Want more photos of Benjamin Booker at Constellation Room? Check out the photo gallery below!