Review and photos by Patrick Dunn
Four days after playing to a capacity crowd at the Dakota, the room was once again filled with devoted listeners fired up to see Louisiana blues guitarist Tab Benoit back in this ideal setting for an encore performance August 1st. Having seen numerous shows at this location already this year, I can confidently say there was a heightened level of excitement that only continued to build as showtime grew closer.
Supporting act Lightnin Malcolm started the evening off with a Delta Blues inspired solo set, utilizing a performance technique he described as the stomp and slide. His unique setup enabled him to use both feet to hammer out the stomp component of his songs while his hands were busy on slide guitar establishing a melody for him to sing over the top of. Malcolm was clearly committed to his craft and appeared to be genuinely thrilled at the opportunity to perform for us. He effectively warmed up the audience and established a moody Bayou inspired vibe that was an important component in setting this evening apart from other blues shows.
One important element that has the power to set a live show up for greatness has to do with the opening song choice and how it’s presented. Tab Benoit was expert in his approach, walking straight up to the microphone and enthusiastically calling out, “It’s time to let it go … that’s what I’m gonna do.” With that, he aggressively strummed an ascending progression of chords as if he were turning a knob to dial up the rooms level of excitement. At just the right moment, the trio came together and launched into the Swamp Blues inspired “Fever for the Bayou”, which perfectly ignited a partylike energy that was nothing short of thrilling.
It was quickly apparent that Benoit enjoys interacting with his audience and that this relationship plays an active role in how his shows develop. His willing commentary took place throughout the evening in-between most songs and was often funny and always charming. Along with a fair amount of storytelling, he shared some insight into his approach to both songwriting and playing the guitar with statements like, “My philosophy really is plug straight in and put it on 10.” Abiding by a belief that great tone essentially comes from your hands as opposed to a lot of gear, he without question backed up every word with song after song of incredibly dynamic and heartfelt playing on his exceptionally weathered Telecaster that he described as being nothing more than a tool that enables him to express what he’s feeling.
All the musical inspiration that makes up the sounds of Louisiana was celebrated best during Fever for the Bayou, Crawfishin’, and Boat Launch Baby. For each of these tunes, Corey Duplechin (bass) and Jeffrey “Jellybean” Alexander (drums) laid down a variety of infectious grooves that I would challenge anyone to try and sit still throughout. A cover of the Hank Williams penned Jambalaya (On the Bayou) was another selection that contained all these traits and was especially fun due to it’s widespread level of familiarity. There were quieter moments that were also impactful, like the smoldering feel on Sunrise, which presented multiple opportunities for Benoit to really dig-in on expressive moments while soloing. My personal favorite happened in the form of Louisiana Style, which gave me goosebumps right from the start and just spoke directly to my soul. The undisputed crowd favorite was the frequently requested Too Many Dirty Dishes, which developed into an over 8-minute offering of blues truly at its finest. Benoit took it one step further concluding his set with a 12+ minute version of Medicine, where he explored a variety of feels and emotion to the crowd’s delight.
A round of encore demanding applause brought Benoit back out to perform one more solid selection in Night Train, bringing things full circle and proving there is also significant importance in how you close a show and send people on their way, ideally already reflecting on what an incredible evening they were lucky enough to have just witnessed.
Fever for The Bayou
Whole Lotta Soul
Boat Launch Baby
Jambalaya (On the Bayou)
Solid Simple Things
Too Many Dirty Dishes