If Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie were still alive, they would have been down on Beale Saturday night howling away at "When the Levee Breaks". Torrential rain flooded the River City Saturday, over 5 inches of rain, and put a damper on the evening. Toss in high winds, and scary lightning for conditions that couldn't get much worse, but it did, power issues at the Hi-Tone Lounge piled on for good measure.
However, once the power was restored, nothing could keep two up and coming buzz bands from trumping the weather. Bully out of Nashville, and Benjamin Booker out of New Orleans ripped off two rocking sets on a night when nobody would have blamed them for mailing it in.
The show was slated to start at 9pm, but flickering power kept Bully from starting their set until after 10:30. After what seemed like a 45 second soundcheck, only asking for a bit more reverb, the band jumped into their catalog of 6 songs, even working in a few new selections, hardly catching their breath before breaking into the next song. The set was tight, melodic, and incredibly toe tapping infectious, waiting around to play didn't phase the band at all. Alicia Bognanno twisted her voice in all directions, and Stewart Copeland even broke out some cowbell. Finally hearing favorites Brainfreeze and Milkman live was thrilling, but the promise of new music on the horizon was even more so.
Then possibly came one of the fastest gear switch outs ever witnessed. Within minutes, Bully's equipment was swept off the stage, quickly replaced by Benjamin Booker's equipment. Benjamin and band was ready to play at 11:15.
Benjamin Booker was a new name to me until I discovered Bully was opening for him. I investigated and found very little about the artist, but what I did find stunned me -- an electric performance of Violent Shiver on the Letterman show in early May blew me away. I was an immediate fan, making the decision to drive 4 hours to Memphis to see not one but two great bands, an easy decision. One thing that struck me about the Letterman performance, was the drummer, Max Norton's energetic smiling performance. And he didn't disappoint live. The band was up to the task of equaling Max's performance too, and followed Bully's lead when it came to quickly getting in to the next song, pausing only for swigs from PBR tall-boys. T
he highlight of the set was Violent Shiver, the vocal delivery, the guitar riff, and that awesome beat gets under my skin.
And then the show was all over just past midnight.
Benjamin's debut LP is out this August, and from what I heard Saturday night, it's going to be knockout fantastic -- bluesy rock and roll in the same vein as the Alabama Shakes.
Ahead of the full length release, the band hits the road for a handful of dates with Jack White. The additional exposure will be a shot in the arm for the band.
After the show ended, I milled around, drank a few more beers than I needed making me nervously loquacious, talked with the band members, bought merchandise, and heard far too many thank-yous for photographing both performances. Speaking of merchandise, I don't own a turntable, haven't in over 20 years, and even gave away all my vinyl not long after that. But, lately, vinyl is piling up around here, perhaps it's the collector in me, but, honestly, it reminds me of my younger days when I learned to love the process of listening to music. With that being said, I bought Bully's debut EP (already owned it digitally), even getting Alicia to sign it. Then Benjamin Booker and band signed a 7 inch single for my wife, Benjamin even doodled a "tiny Batman" as he put it. With all this new vinyl, perhaps a turntable will find a place in my home again.
My night ended with a persuasive tug on my shirt, and as I stepped out into rain, lightning flashed across the sky, and Robert Plant's haunting harmonica intro came to my mind.