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Benjamin Booker; getting better with age

It’s always nervewracking when someone appears out of nowhere, produces an album as blisteringly good as Benjamin Booker’s eponymous 2014 release at just 24 years old, comes to Melbourne, blows our socks off and then a few years later, announces they’re coming back.

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Image source: 
Sally Townsend Photography

Can they prove they weren’t just a one-album wonder? Will they still have the energy of that first and furious foray into music? Will they have grown? Will they still be headed in the same fantastic and unique direction?
 
In the case of Florida’s Benjamin Booker, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding, enthusiastic “fuck yeah, baby”.
 
From the get-go, it was clear Benjamin Booker has kept his raspy, punk-vs-blues sound and if anything, his energy levels are going up.
 
The Corner’s capacity is more than double the Northcote, reflecting Booker’s growth in following and material. At his gig at the Northcote, Booker had to apologise to a braying crowd begging for more, with a “sorry guys, I only have one album”. This time he mostly played songs off his new effort, 2017’s Witness, but threw in some of the classics from 2014’s Benjamin Booker, including ‘Violent Shiver’ and ‘Wicked Waters’.
 
Booker’s new work still has an undercurrent of punk and blues, but he’s taking influence ever so gently from other genres, including gospel and even folk. Though the punk vibe is still super strong within his live set.
 
He didn’t shy away from heavy topics live, with ‘Slow Drag Under’ and ‘Motivation’ both making an appearance, but the crowd didn’t move a muscle when he played ‘Witness’, his protest song about police violence in America, recorded with blues and gospel royalty Mavis Staples.
 
So moving are his slower songs that at one point the audience completely self-regulated, with a fed-up crowd silencing chit-chatters, telling them to just shut up and listen, during an almost acoustic version of ‘Slow Coming’ during the encore. After that it was total silence and goosebumps all around.
 
Booker’s a master songwriter, a beautiful arranger and all of that just makes his live music soar. Far from letting anyone down, Booker actually proved he’s a force to be reckoned with and like a fine whiskey, he’s getting progressively better with age.
 
Highlight: Crowd self-regulation.
Lowlight: Crowd member was shouting and getting aggro during a ballad and staff had to remove him
Crowd favourite: 'Violent Shiver' and 'Witness'