Seattle – In the annals of rock ‘n’ roll history are the fabled stories of artists getting a little too, shall we say, loosened up backstage before a performance. Alcohol seems to be the norm for a road tour, with the late nights, long days, bar gigs, festivals, what have you. After all, the phrase “Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll” has persisted, now to encompass all manner of sins and lewd behavior in show business.
Perhaps it was a celebration of a successful appearance on “Conan,” his run as tour opener for Jack White, or the anticipation of his then-upcoming debut album (just-released on ATO), but 25-year-old Benjamin Booker’s backstage festivities made their first tell-tale sign when he staggered onstage in front of a packed house at Tractor Tavern during the set change, with pink paper umbrellas stuck in his hair and started passing out bottles of Rainier to the audience. Indeed, it was going to be a raucous night of mayhem.
A primal wail into the microphone, and Booker was off. The fuzzy distortion of his guitar, combined with Max Norton’s banging drums and Alex Spoto’s spirited bass, allowed for elements of punk and garage rock to blend in with his gritty, raw blues vocals. Whispers of Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, and Blind Willie Johnson permeated his set, as Booker demonstrated his impressive ability at making rockabilly, blues, and punk into a cohesive musical sound.
Booker’s most impressive feat, however, was his capable guitar playing even as he stumbled around or nearly fell over or onto the audience members crowded at the foot of the stage. Honestly, it was hard to tell which song he was playing at a time, with the slurred or forgotten words – lyrics be damned. But Booker managed to pull off such skilled guitar playing that it seemed he became one with his instrument, no matter what state of mind he was in.
Acknowledging his current state, he guffawed into the mic, “I’m way too drunk to do this show right now. Show of hands, who did I do shots with before?” Many cheers and whoops went through the crowd.
Booker clearly was enjoying himself and the energy from (most of) the audience, half of which ended up joining him onstage in a mosh pit as Norton and Spoto kept the rhythm and bass rolling. After a bout of precarious crowd-surfing and the destruction of a guitar and microphone stand, the show wrapped up.
A propulsive force to be reckoned with, Booker’s palpable talents and accomplishments at a young age make him the next up-and-coming blues rock artist. Be sure to catch him on tour this fall; he’s certainly an impressive musician live.
Kicking off the night was Pennsylvania-based quartet The Districts. Their high energy and tight chemistry, especially with songs like “Long Distance” and “Lyla,” excited the crowd, who jumped up and down to their songs with them. With frontman Rob Grote’s vigorous head-banging, those of us at the foot of the stage worried about sweat flying into our beers – the smallest of concerns, though, since The Districts put on such a good show. Check them out on tour this fall.
With degrees in journalism and music, Caitlin’s written for Paste Magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and MajoringinMusic.com. She loves cheese, laughing at GIFs of corgis, road trip sing-alongs, and connecting with people over good beer and good music.