Raspy-voiced rocker Benjamin Booker played the Santa Ana Observatory two weeks ago, after selling out The Roxy. Local band Small Wigs opened for him, playing to a tightly packed, enthusiastic crowd, in which I spotted (and mildly accosted, sorry) actor Robert Sheehan. Small Wigs played a good set of 60s-sounding garage rock with bassist Mikki Itzigsohn charming the crowd in between sets with her teensy-voiced banter.
Booker’s talented band included bassist/fiddle player Alex Spoto and drummer Max Norton, who also picked up what I think was a mandolin at one point. The trio played a high-energy set of tracks from Booker’s excellent self-titled album, including a sped-up version of one of the singles, “Have You Seen My Son?” Booker’s sound is raw and grunge-y with strong songwriting and an infectiously upbeat energy. It was a lot of fun dancing to “Always Waiting” and “Wicked Waters”, and swaying or head-bopping along with “Happy Homes”.
The charismatic frontman teased the crowd that he had looked up Santa Ana and the only thing it seemed to be famous for was porn stars. He also gleefully scolded L.A. audiences in general for trying to “be cool all the time” (“That shit is exhausting!”). Unfortunately, they didn’t play the slow-grinding, but powerful track “The Future is Slow Coming”, which is one of my favorites and certainly has a timely video. The lyrics seem to address both racism and homophobia, with the identifiable lament, “Honestly, how can I be calm right now? To tell you the truth, I ain’t been sleeping too well.”
(More photos after the jump)
“Slow Coming” would have made an amazing encore, but although the crowd called for one, the piped-in music started up shortly after they left the stage, signaling that the night was over. Booker had apparently just gotten over a bout of laryngitis, so we certainly couldn’t blame him.