Benjamin Booker | photo by Emma Silverstone for WXPN
Free at Noon Flashback: Benjamin Booker brings the heat back to Philly
About a month back during the beauty that is Non-COMM, a heat wave struck Philly. Just as the amazing artists departed, so too did the fervent warmth. But today, two Non-COMM entities have returned: a sweltering spell and bluesy rocker, Benjamin Booker. Coincidence? I think not. I’m no weatherperson, but after experiencing Booker’s smooth ‘n sultry, rocking ‘n rolling Free at Noon set today, I’m concluding Booker’s steamy vocals and heavy guitar jams are the catalyst.
Playing tunes off his newly released album, Witness, Booker and crew opened with the upbeat garage rock track, “Right On You.” Diving in with amped intensity, Booker snatched up the crowd’s full attention from the first strum of warped guitar fuzz. Simmering things down a little, the oh so smooth slow jam, “Slow Drag Under” crept in next, where Booker’s gravelly whispered vocals took center stage. With Booker crooning along to the steady bass line and twang-filled guitar riffs, it was impossible not to swoon away.
After hyping his Kurt Vile t-shirt (YAS, go Philly) Booker rolled into the Gospel-folk, violin-infused track, “Believe,” which had Booker swapping out his guitar for full attention to vocals. Unlike some musicians who might use their instrument as a crutch, Booker radiated total ease and comfort with this switch — maybe more comfortable, even — as his sans-guitar self allowed for an unhindered showcase of his suave moves.
Next up was the socially conscious title track of the new album, “Witness.” Atop a hopeful, sparkly piano melody, touring member Sandra Williams’ earnest, powerful voice shone through on the infectious chorus with Booker jumping in for shorter, flow-driven verses.
Shifting back to high-octane jams, Booker closed out his set with a drum-heavy, headbanging crunch-fest with “Off the Ground” into the slick groove of “Happy Homes.” With the level of intense energy created here, as your unofficial, unqualified weatherperson, I’m going to predict this heat wave to last us quite a while.