NonCOMM Recap: Going full circle with Benjamin Booker

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Benjamin Booker | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Back on the PRX stage three years after his NonCOMM debut, Benjamin Booker showered us with his nuanced power blues / rock once again. Backed by a new band, the New Orleans musician highlighted his sophomore effort Witness, scheduled for a June 2nd release via ATO Records.

When the NonCOMM crowd last saw Booker, he was untethered in a way that allowed the heart of his songwriting to burst through edgy guitar riffs and a barrage of percussion. This time around, he’s found a way to hone that rawness into a more refined display – there’s still a great amount of garage-y distortion and fringiness to the songs, but there are also bright melodies and deep grooves that seem inspired by 60s and 70s R&B.

The quartet slid right into punk burst mode with “Right on You,” a careening display of the band’s full power. Digging back to 2014’s self-titled debut, Booker led a languid, late-summer-evening version of “Happy Homes.” heavy with a funky bass line. That album popped up again with its powerful lead single “Violent Shiver” and the chugging “Chippewa” later on in the set, two songs that made Booker a fixture on public radio.

Witness‘ title track was the real star of the show though, even without the Mavis Staples guest vocals of the recorded version. Part uplifting spiritual and part reflective social commentary, its disarmingly direct chorus of “Am I gonna be a witness” makes you stop and think twice about the state of the country.

With some extra time on the clock, Booker gave the audience a choice of a fast song or a slow song to close out the set. There seemed to be unanimous agreement on a fast song, which brought us “Have You Seen My Son?,” another highlight off of the 2014 debut and a fitting closer for a full-circle performance.

Setlist
Right on You
Happy Homes
Witness
Off the Ground
Believe
Violent Shiver
Chippewa
Have You Seen My Son?

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