Benson attracts eclectic audience
Dads, hipsters alike rock out
Brendan Benson is no newbie when it comes to playing live music. In fact, these days he's kind of lost his sparkle. His emaciated bottom swam under his belt-sucked waist, and his mussed hair and stubbly face hid under the rim of a cap. His scraggly ways didn't affect his performance, however, which was full of heart and perfectly hit high notes.
Benson alternated between tracks from his highly admired first two albums and his dad-rock latest, "The Alternative to Love." The crowd expressed familiarity with the twinkling "Cold Hands, Warm Heart," and the nonsensical but catchy "Spit It Out," the two singles from the album. Benson expressed his gratitude to the Black Cat staff for being "so cool," a gesture that highlighted his friendly demeanor.
"Metarie," "Folk Singer" and "Tiny Spark," the best of his old tracks, were played with a relaxed enthusiasm; the thin crowd seemed easy to impress. Despite Benson's rebel penchant for cigarettes, vintage T-shirts and Jack White (the two are buds from way back and have a solo project, The Raconteurs, on the way), older men in nice button-downs comprised the majority. Their off-kilter head bobs and dancing were reminiscent of a family wedding where Dad put away a few too many whiskey sours.
If Benson himself would have played all the instruments as on the album, this show might've been quite different. His band provided ample backup, but the Bob Saget look-a-like bass player and the too-well-dressed pianist/guitarist seemed well beyond the years of a rock and roll crowd. Harmonies highlighted on songs like "What I'm Looking For" were impressive but off-putting. After an entire song focusing on Benson's range, trailing off like a barbershop quartet didn't quite work.
By the end, the weary Thursday night crowd looked like they'd had one too many after-work cocktails. Benson shocked and awed with "Sittin' Pretty," a track that gained screams of recognition from audience members front and back.
Benson's show may have just felt like another night at the Black Cat, but only because it wasn't spectacular. He played his tracks just right and didn't have trouble squeezing out the high notes. He engaged his crowd with the typical artist banter. He played songs everyone wanted to hear. Not bad for a veteran.