Incorporating a Kurt Cobain growl and a soulful Ray LaMontagne rasp, the 25-year-old singer Benjamin Booker gave absolutely everything to dozens of fans at Deep Ellum's Trees on Tuesday.
Booker is based in New Orleans, where blues, jazz and so many other roots sounds blend together beautifully in its music scene. But the dude also thrives on healthy doses of lo-fi punk and old-time rock 'n' roll. His versatility and boundary-less approach made for a thrilling debut eponymous album last year. His live show at Trees only served to magnify his tunes' excellence while coming off a little looser and more dangerous.
Well, the songs felt dangerous when Booker and bandmates Max Norton (on drums) and Alex Spoto (on basslines) began, with the bouncy one-two punch of "Always Waiting" and "Chippewa." After that came "Old Hearts" and "Kids Never Grow Older."
With each of those album tracks, Booker's rasp and intensity intensified - he leaned into the mic, eyes shut as if he were in his own zone. But as soon as Booker addressed the crowd after the fifth song, he revealed an endearingly awkward sweet side.
"Hey, uh, nice to meet you Dallas," he said in a speaking voice much higher than his powerful singing rasp had let on earlier. He then placed a foam cover on his mic and said he'd originally taken it off to make it sound less muffled, "but I felt it shocking me."
With the unwanted currents taken care of, Booker threw the crowd a wonderful musical curveball by doing a countrified take on the standard "Falling Down Blues," accompanied by Norton on mandolin and Spoto on violin. If we had to name their style of playing at that moment, we'd call it "blues-grass," and the odd sandpaper soul of Booker's vocal helped make sense of it all.
The young singer's entertaining audience banter wasn't quite done, though, even if his music would've been enough for the adoring crowd. He brought an audience member on stage to improvise a tune inspired by the Spanish term for "badass." He also told the room he wanted to end his set at a "reasonable hour" in order to see part of Christopher Owens' show at Dada down the street. And he shouted out the local joint Braindead Brewing, where he'd had a good Cuban sandwich earlier.
It was nice seeing Booker and his band members have so much fun on stage between songs, but their performances just kept taking things higher, especially their call-and-response rendition of the New-Orleans-signature standard "Little Liza Jane."
What's truly remarkable about Booker is that you can close your eyes and hear the voice of a much older, world-weary traveler. Should he stay both sonically wise and personally wide-eyed, Booker's going to be the biggest thing going one of these days.