May 20th 2014
When people say retro, they’re being a bit lazy. With thousands of years behind us, the idea that something is evocavative of the past isn’t in itself particularly revealing. For example, there’s not a lot uniting the two acts on the bill tonight in terms of the actual sonic output, but both have clearly learned from their forbears. Three piece Tigercub spent a youth listening Nevermind, whereas headliner Benjamin Booker bubbles over with blues, boogie and soul style.
Upstairs at the Old Blue is more full than empty when Tigercub set to the stage, their brash dirge pop ricocheting through the building. This is grunge with melody, less aggressive than their pals The Wytches, and they pump through the set with a solidity and stamina. Raw and fuzzy, they play with a louche power, no doubt helped by the gangly yet definite presence of seven foot tall front man Jamie. Whirring distortion fuelled tracks like Mother, Little Rope, and latest single Blue Blood land well, and although there’s a general feeling that these guys aren’t reinventing the wheel, but when the wheel includes Sonic Youth, Nirvana, or Dinosaur Pile Up, there might not be a need to.
Benjamin Booker is the man everyone is here to see. A glance around the crowd shows how broad an appeal the man has, with suited city types standing next to skinny jeaned hipsters, with industry chin strokers and music fans alike mingling between them. The names David Letterman and Alabama Shakes are not usually names I would consider it to be beneficial to be associated with, in terms of guiding my listening choices (because that’s what a band worries about…), but along with a recent Letterman performance, album production from Andrija Tokic of Alabama Shakes fame, and touring with Jack White, Booker has the talent and tunes to back it up.
Booker, 24, grew up in Tampa and spent time playing in a garage rock duo, but it is evidently his years in New Orleans that really honed his sound, adding that blues melody layer to urgent garage chords, and creating something immediate and fresh, yet which hits the cerebral cortex: that mash of old and new being ignited being the root of good music. Tonight performing with backing musicians, Booker is clearly the master of his craft and the stage, and there was almost no need for the drummer, so tight and rhythmic is Booker’s sound. Running through tracks from his debut album, out on Rough Trade later this year, Booker demonstrated his expertise in quick clipped riffing and vibrant scales, underpinned by rocking chords.
And when he launched into Violent Shiver, exactly that was felt through the venue, with foot shuffling and limb twitching starting to accompany the chin nodding. A cigarette and whisky voice, an ear for a good tune, and a passion for playing are all alluring for any crowd, even the Vice-tastic Old Blue one.