In the tented sanctuary of the Yellow Stage, New Orleans-based guitar golden boy Benjamin Booker gave a thumping, thrashing testament to the power of all-American rock. With his sweat-soaked face contorted in a mix of ecstasy and pain, hands outstretched and eyes rolled back into his head, he was a passionate preacher delivering a loud — and I mean loud — sermon on roots revival.
“How are your ears?” Booker asked the crowd after blazing through a set of three-minute-or-less eardrum-bruising bluesy bangers. He soulfully slurred with his upper lip pressed atop the microphone over a chorus of fierce feedback from his sunburst Gibson and filling-rattling kick drum that shook the fest’s smallest stage.
Twisting on the toes of his Chuck Taylors and dropping to his knees, Booker is as swift on his feet as he and the band are at swapping styles across their setlist. The trio seems to jumps from an old-school boogie to swampy Sabbath riffs to a chaotic feedback solo in the same song, and it ends up somehow feeling classic. It helps that the lion-faced Booker is such a magnetic, commanding presence. When the band moved from garage rock into a bayou bluegrass jam with Booker — who swapped his guitar for a cigarette — dancing like a car dealership’s inflatable waving arms man, the tent-filling audience was happy to oblige a clap along.
Booker is selling something familiar with a shiny new coat of paint by doing what the best artists have always done: being a damn good performer. The result bridges the gap between grungy flannel-wearers and earplug-packing gray-hairs. He’s a crowd-pleaser that’s a nod to the past that doesn’t feel like a retread.