Monday, February 22, 2010

Brendan Benson: From 1930 to 2010 in one evening

I went to see Brendan Benson last night and had a great time.

BlackBerry photo more for purposes of proving I was there than
adding to the world's supply of Brendan Benson pictures.

I'm used to watching Benson on videos of the Raconteurs playing to 150,000 people jumping up and down at a festival. It was a touch cognitively dissonant to see him live for the first time playing to about 300 discriminating customers in a bar in San Diego - an agreeable place called the Belly Up.

The support act was Frank Fairfield, an amazingly accomplished folk-blues singer. He opened with a Robert Johnson number, in which his (Frank's) mumbled asides matched Robert Johnson's mumbed asides perfectly. He was instrumentally perfect on guitar, banjo and fiddle and came out with a great show that would have wowed anyone, white or black, any time in the 1930s and maybe 1940s too. He did make the mistake (in my eyes) of playing Cumberland Gap, which for any British people my age is owned by Lonnie Donnegan so any other rendition is a cover. (Odd that I don't feel that way about the Robert Johnson opener, but maybe some Americans can take that one on for me.) He had the stage presence of a sleepy three-toed sloth, but played like a maniac.

The place began to fill up during the intermission and Brendan Benson took the stage. I don't know all of his solo stuff, having only heard Lapalco and the recent My Old, Familiar Friend. I'd characterize his stuff as beautifully written, intelligent and lyrically outstanding, with a Beatles-like understanding of harmony and pop hooks. But with a little less...oomph...than I usually like. No worries tonight. Live, the oomph appears. I got up from behind my pile of loaded potato skins and went to the uncrowded dancefloor and stepped out. There wasn't exactly a mosh pit out there, I have to say.

Someone threw Benson a hand-made t shirt which read "Who the f#ck is Jack White?" which made him laugh, and then we were back to power pop. Brendan Benson live is definitely worth checking out.

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