Words by Alexandra Johnson | Photos by Jeremy Gordon
New York City — As the crisp autumn air settled on Manhattan, the streets of Chelsea bore little evidence of the night of straight-up American rock that lie ahead. The sidewalks that lined West 16th Street sat calm and motionless as the industrial walls that plot out Highline Ballroom enclosed a myriad of flannels, leather jackets and boots adorned by the energetic crowd who had pulled them on earlier that evening. When the colorful stage lights powered up, just enough to etch an outline of a curly-topped axeman strapped with a Gibson, it became obvious that even though the concrete city that lay on the outskirts of the building wasn’t aware of his presence, those that filled the venue were long awaiting Brendan Benson.
Benson, frequently tagged as a founding member of rock n’ roll power quartet, The Raconteurs, has most recently found himself on the front end of a six week, co-headlining circuit with ‘90s alt-rock/pop musicians, The Posies. Showcasing tracks off of his four stag studio records, Benson took to the city venue, on the eve of his 40th birthday, to once again define his individual strengths as a Michigan-born singer and songwriter.
Mounting the stage with Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer from The Posies, Benson was suited up from head to toe and polished off with a glass of Brendan Benson Red (an exudence of gentleman-like class, which we don’t often see trickle out of very many rock stars), a bottled collaboration of Benson’s with City Winery . With noticeably flowing energy, Benson and the band set the bar for the evening with a rockin’ version of “A Whole Lot Better”, Benson’s first single off of last year’s My Old, Familiar Friend.
A few tunes in, when Benson effortlessly sang the lyrics to “Sittin’ Pretty” over the upbeat, guitar-driven notes of the song, which spiraled off the stage in syncopated precision, it seemed hard to believe that the amazing on-stage chemistry was manifesting from four guys who don’t typically perform together. Being only the second Saturday of their shared North American stint, with only seven shows under their straps, they could have passed off years of collaboration to any unknowing presence.
The set hammered into the pit of rock Americana, with short tailored songs drenched in red, white and blue, leaking with traces of influence from past popular rock royalty, such as The Beatles. Benson’s smooth vocals skimmed effortlessly through the crowd, never staggering in his hour and a quarter slot. When he fingered the notes out of guitar-centric songs like “Good to Me” and “Spit It Out”, the seed of inspiration that planted Jack White with blueprints for The Raconteurs became visible and the reality of Benson as an integral piece of the supergroup solidified itself as impossible to ignore.
After a 16 deep set-list, Benson and his tour band came back on-stage for the crowd’s rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”, which was incomparable to the two song encore that followed to close out the night. Benson’s own “Crosseyed” and Big Star’s “September Gurls” brought down the ballroom with as much brawn that built it up only a short time before.
Maybe it was the outpour of a satisfied crowd, or the reminiscent rambles of a show that only happened moments prior, but on the way out, the city streets seemed a whole lot more in tune with what had happened within the crowded walls that evening – and Brendan Benson was fully responsible.
TheWaster.com | Raconteur