Brendan Benson and Friends @ Ryman Auditorium / Nashville TN / December 18, 2013

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Nashville’s Brendan Benson is a well-respected and talented singer-songwriter whose skills lay in crafting exquisite pop songs. While there are many treasures to find in his solo catalog, he still remains best known as the other singer in The Raconteurs.  The Raconteurs is the band he fronts with Jack White, the musical face of the new non-country Nashville.

Seeing Benson as a Ryman headliner was quite a surprise. It made more sense, however, when the full details revealed that the show was a benefit for the David Lynch Foundation, an organization that promotes the use of Transcendental Meditation (“TM”) to heal traumatic stress. The “friends” part is what got my attention when the long roster of names included Eric Burdon, former lead singer of both The Animals and War. Disappointingly, Burdon’s participation was limited to a letter read by Benson apologizing for Burdon’s last minute cancellation citing exhaustion from a recent European tour.

While we didn’t get to hear Burdon, the night was filled with great entertainment even though it was more Benson-centric than I had expected. In fact, all of the guests simply sang along with Benson on his songs, some of which they had co-written with him.  One exception was underutilized Jakob Dylan with whom he did a Stones cover.

There was a missed opportunity when Benson chose to sing one of his songs fronting the surviving incarnation of Big Star: original drummer Jody Stephens with Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow from The Posies. I’ll never understand why Benson didn’t take a slight diversion to sing “September Gurls,” the Big Star classic that I have heard him nail at recent tribute shows.

Benson’s banter about fans who came from great distances needed no explanation. It was obvious they were there for some JW and not TM. This was evidenced when Jack White’s entrance as the night’s final guest brought the somewhat subdued house to its feet with cell phone cameras out.

The evening closed with Benson leading two Animals’ songs that were probably rehearsed for Burdon. All in all it was a great night of music if you were a fan of Benson’s music. It was, however, an unexpected use of guest stars–atypical to the usual benefit show format where they would sing their own songs.

Here’s a photo run-down of the set list and guests who supported Benson and his expanded touring band.

SETLIST:

  1. How Long Blues (Leadbelly cover) (with Ricky Skaggs and The Howlin Brothers)
  2. On the Fence (with Ricky Skaggs and The Howlin Brothers)DSCN2610
  3. Diamond (with Ricky Skaggs and Sarah Siskind)DSCN2628
  4. Rejuvenate Me (with Young Hines)DSCN2630
  5. Spray Tan (Mark Watrous lead vocal with Matt Mahaffey on drums)
  6. Swallow You Whole (with Dean Fertita on piano and Matt Mahaffey on drums)
  7. Pretty Baby (with Jessie Baylin)DSCN2647
  8. You Make a Fool Out of Me (with Corey Chisel)DSCN2654
  9. Consider Me (Norma Jean Martine lead vocal)DSCN2656
  10. Bad For Me (with Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow)
  11. What Kind of World (with Jon Auer, Ken Stringfellow and Jody Stephens of Big Star)DSCN2660
  12. Thru the Ceiling (with Jay Joyce)
  13. What I’m Looking For (with Butch Walker)DSCN2666
  14. Cold Hands (Warm Heart) (with Willy Mason)DSCN2670
  15. Loving Cup (The Rolling Stones cover) (with Jakob Dylan)DSCN2676
  16. I Don’t Want to See You Anymore (with Adriel Denae)DSCN2683
  17. Good to Me (with Jack White)
  18. Hands (with Jack White)DSCN2693DSCN2684
  19. Jetlag (with Young Hines)
  20. Tiny Spark (with Butch Walker)
  21. Steady As She Goes (with Jack White)
  22. When I Was Young (The Animals cover)
  23. Inside Looking Out (The Animals cover)

BAND:

Brendan Benson—guitar and vocals
Bucky Baxter—pedal steel guitar
Seth Timbs—piano
Mark Watrous—guitar
Travis McNabb—rums and percussion
Shelly Colvin—backing vocals
Dan Duszynski—backing vocals
Brad Pemberton—drums
Bobby Laurie—bass guitar
Chris West—tenor sax
Tyler Summers—tenor sax
Jon-Paul Frappier—trumpet
Jocelyn Sprouse—violin
Linda Davis—viola
Gary Tussing—cello

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