Gators Don’t Taste like Chicken
For two hours on a February Saturday night, on the outskirts of Washington, DC, a little bayou magic managed to dispel the single digit wind chills. The location was the Museum of the Natural History of American Music, better known as the Birchmere. The evening was an exposition of sorts, a demonstration of what happens when a Cajun man gets the blues. The magician in charge of alchemy was none other than Tab Benoit.
The evening started off nicely with an opening set from Patty Reese. Her soulful voice and blues mama persona went over well with the packed house. It served as a good warm up for the spell casting that was to follow.
Benoit took to the stage to a very warm welcome, and launched into a rocking version of the Muddy Waters classic “Why Are People Like That.” The rhythm section of Corey Duplechin on bass and Terrence Higgins on drums laid a solid foundation for Benoit to layer on with nimble fretwork and heartfelt blues wailing.
Next up Benoit’s gritty guitar playing and commanding vocals pushed “A Whole Lotta Soul” into overdrive. “Nothing Takes the Place of You” followed, a slow break-up blues ballad that gave Benoit a chance to pour his heart out on his sleeve. As he sang it became perfectly clear this was a classic jukebox barroom drinking-her-off-my-mind sort of lament, a blues song that would play just as well in a Texas honky tonk as in a Chicago juke joint.
Benoit favorites followed, “Hot Tamale Baby,” “These Arms of Mine,” and “When a Cajun Man Gets the Blues.” The audience was fully invested, shouting out requests, which Benoit alternately honored or ignored, often to much laughter. Throughout the night Benoit’s off-kilter sense of humor kept the crowd in stitches. In between songs he managed to maintain a running gag about animals and their culinary benefits.
“Y’all vegetarians are *&#%$@(screwing) things up. You don’t have to eat cows. They don’t eat people. But down where I’m from if you don’t eat animals they gon’ eat you. And gators don’t taste like chickens neither. Frogs don’t like it when we eat their legs. Trust me, if they had teeth they’d eat you.” This line of banter continued through the night and included Benoit’s observations on monkeys smoking cigarettes.
In honor of a patron’s sixtieth birthday Benoit dove into the perennial crowd pleaser, “I Got Loaded” bringing the audience with him as he transported the ticket payers to a roadside shack on the edge of the bayou. All that was missing was some Spanish moss hanging from the rafters.
Benoit seemed to have the most fun with one of the most anticipated songs of the evening, “Night Train,” at first pretending to ignore the request. But once he got the train moving it was frenetic. With Higgins holding the driving wheel, his drums keeping the locomotion chugging on time, Benoit and Duplechin were free to engage in some spirited interplay.
As the engine picked up steam Benoit and Duplechin took turns egging each other on, adding to the sense of urgency as it was clear the brakes were gone and there was no stopping them now. Benoit was clearly enjoying his bandmates playing, Higgins clicking off the rails and Duplechin undulating and nodding like the badass bobble-headed bass player he is.
Benoit’s tone heavy playing managed to swing between straight blues, rockabilly, and country twang all within the same song. There was an abundance of low-necking guit-picking, enough to please an audience twice the size of the sold out Birchmere crowd. If global warming is truly a man-made event, then Tab Benoit is the reason why February never felt so hot. www.theflamestillburns.com