Brendan Benson – The Bowery Ballroom – May 5, 2012
In retrospect, it makes sense why Jack White chose Brendan Benson as his collaborator for the Raconteurs. Both musicians dabble in familiar rock sounds yet tweak them in a way that makes them sound unique and inventive. In the case of Jack White, it’s the blues guitar, one of the foundations of rock and roll, which he’s managed to turn on its head. In Benson’s case, it’s power-pop melodies, the accessible yet earnest rock sound that may well never wane in popularity. How Benson’s been able to bend the possibilities of a tried-and-true sound into a career spanning three decades is what makes him not just a musician, but also an artist.
Benson’s show at The Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night included a healthy sampling of songs from his five solo albums. The singer-songwriter played about as many tunes from his latest release, What Kind of World, as he did from his first, 1996’s One Mississippi. The difference in style between older material and newer stuff was minor, but this consistency was a good thing. How songs like the opener, “Maginary Girl,” off Benson’s debut album, sound like they could have been released yesterday speaks to how perfected his songcraft was from the start. The new “Bad for Me” shifted momentum. It began as a piano ballad before lifting off into the power-pop stratosphere, returning back to earth for a brief moment of just Benson’s acoustic guitar and stretched vocals before blasting off again.
Members of opening acts Howling Brothers and Young Hines joined Benson to provide a fiddle, harmonica and megaphone accompaniment for “Pretty Baby.” The Nashville singer-songwriter Hines came back to do “Keep Me,” a new song cowritten with Benson, who seemed genuinely excited to be back in New York City. (The two also collaborated on the album Give Me My Change, released last month.) Benson spent most of the time before his set in the audience, chatting and taking pictures with fans. It’s refreshing to see a veteran still as enthusiastic to meet the crowd as he is to perform. If he’s not tired of it by now, there’s a good chance he never will be. And that’s a good thing. —Dan Rickershauser