Benjamin Booker, Wild Smiles at Tut’s, 28/2/15

Tut’s is alive with Glasgow’s Saturday-night atmosphere caused by professionals going out and students staying in, but it’s still a bit of a surprise to see the average age of the crowd here to see Benjamin Booker seems to be at least 30.

Hailing from Florida, Booker started his, so far explosive, music career in New Orleans by releasing a very well received EP in 2012, Waiting Ones.

He then released a debut album and fast forward a year or so he’s posting a photo of his name alongside the likes of Hozier and Paolo Nutini on King Tut’s’ famous staircase to the thousands of people that follow him on Instagram.

The lucky band charged with warming up the stage for Mr Booker is Hampshire rock trio Wild Smiles.

Rather impressively, they self-recorded their debut album in a shed after the collapse of a previous band, and their live show displays a tight-knit sound, reminiscent of surf-rock, punk, and grunge.

It appears there is a touch of nerves in the performance; at times brothers Chris and Joe Peden look like they don’t know exactly where to look or where to put their feet and stage banter is tinged with awkwardness.

Fortunately, the nature of their songs is inherently pretty powerful and the awkwardness slips away to make way for a very solid set.

Benjamin Booker‘s three-piece band approaches a foggy stage to the backing track of an old, scratchy New Orleans jazz number and moody, low lighting.

It’s a savagely cool entrance and serves as a good reminder that aside from Booker’s lo-fi, garage tendencies, much of his inspiration is rooted in the blues.

His set begins with swirls of feedback which engulf the backing track and his overdriven guitar accompanies hectic drumming and tight bass.

It has to be mentioned early on that the presence of vocals in the mix is slightly disappointing, given that Booker’s low growl is such a focal point of his exciting sound.

At points he intensifies his singing in bursts of gravelly ferocity, but it almost feels as if he’s holding back to make the crowd lust for these moments, so that when they do appear they are all the more sweet.

At his last showing in Tut’s, Booker referenced Oasis’ discovery at the venue and professed his hate for them by telling his crowd “fuck that band”, and tonight’s set paints a similar punky, disdained feeling into the air, which screeches with feedback and walls of maddening noise; at one particularly drawn out section of feedback, I turn to see several pained faces with fingers in ears.

Booker’s accompanying duo Alex Spoto and Max Norton don the roles of fiddle and mandolin players, allowing Booker the space to croon away to a bluesy backdrop and despite the sudden absence of fuzz or overdrive, it’s an excellently compelling drop in pace.

‘Have You Seen My Son’ roars along with Ramones-esque punkness and ‘Violent Shiver’, perhaps the most popular song on his album, receives a rapturous welcome at the sound of its opening riff.

‘By The Evening’ sways along with melancholy before building into a thunderous and completely awesome outro, which perfectly shows his flexibility as a performer and songwriter.

Benjamin Booker is a force to be reckoned with and tonight’s snarling episode has been an experiential lesson in powerful, completely unchained rock’n’roll.

Words: Greg Murray
Photos: Iain McDonagh


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