Tab Benoit With Lightnin’ Malcolm
The Newton Theatre – Newton, NJ – 11/10/2022
Review & Photos – Rebecca Wolf
We all know taste in music is subjective. Everyone has a preference for certain musical styles and connects to music in their own personal way. However, I believe whether your musical taste gravitates towards rock, blues, jazz, soul or country, phenomenal abilities are just that….phenomenal. It’s impossible not to recognize and appreciate masterful instrumental skills, regardless of their musical genre. Witnessing incredible instrumental skills is often mesmerizing, whether it’s fingers flying across the frets of a guitar or up and down a piano keyboard, drumsticks moving at lightning speed as they create powerful, rhythmic percussion beats, or breathtakingly rich saxophone notes wafting into the air. In these moments, no category is necessary to recognize greatness.
I encountered one of those moments at The Newton Theatre on November 10th when I was introduced to the incredible instrumental skills of Louisiana blues guitarist Tab Benoit. Born and bread in Louisiana, Benoit is steeped in Cajun culture and his musical style is often referred to as “swamp blues.” Swamp blues has been described as having a more laid-back, rhythmic feel than Louisiana blues, and is an amalgamation of musical sounds including soul, Cajun, R&B and New Orleans blues. With an almost sold out performance that evening, Benoit’s skills were obviously well-known to the audience members eagerly awaiting his performance. As someone not well-versed in the blues, Benoit’s music had escaped me, though he’s been on the scene for 30 years, since the release of his debut recording Nice and Warm.
Sitting in the front row at The Newton Theatre an avid Benoit fan eagerly awaiting the performance excitedly explained to me that this would be her first time seeing Benoit perform live. “When I saw he was playing I had to buy tickets the minute they went on sale,” she shared with joyful anticipation. As the theater seats continued to fill, the evening’s opening act, Lightnin’ Malcolm, made his way onstage with a cheshire grin and an air of confidence and pride. Malcolm has a reason to feel proud, as he recently signed with Tab Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou Records, released his album Eye of the Storm (with Benoit on drums for three songs) and is currently on the road opening for Benoit. Accompanying Malcolm on drums at The Newton Theatre was none other than Tab Benoit himself. Throughout the 35-minute set Malcolm played guitar with passionate, energetic spirit; his emotional connection to the music highlighted by the expressions on his face and his closed eyes. Speaking with a heavy Southern drawl, Malcolm expressed appreciation to the audience for their support, as enthusiasm rang out through the crowd. Joining Malcolm on stage for the last number of the set was Benoit’s longtime bass player, Louisiana native Corey Duplechin, whose calm, steadfast demeanor added an additional rhythmic layer of blues magic.
Leaving the confines of the drum kit, Benoit returned with guitar in hand to take his place centerstage. The energy already present in The Newton Theatre increased exponentially, as abundant cheers from the crowd filled the venue. Joining Benoit on stage were Duplechin on bass and Jeffery “Jelly Bean” Alexander on drums. Benoit wasted no time demonstrating his searing guitar skills, deftly moved his fingers along the frets, as his pick flew across the strings, producing rich, energetic, swampy blues music. From Benoit’s first notes the audience was immediately mesmerized by his wizardry on guitar. Benoit often appeared lost in the music as he performed with eyes squeezed tightly shut, hair swinging in the air and a myriad of expressions spreading across his face. “If anyone is taking pictures they better be getting the guitar and the microphone in the photo,” Benoit noted with a broad smile (pointing to the guitar neck and the mic.) “Otherwise, I will just look like I’m crazy!”
Benoit performed long blues guitar jams, interspersed with powerful vocal numbers that displayed his warm, rich, textured voice, tinged by a Louisiana drawl. The thickness of Benoit’s accent was more clearly apparent as he comfortably chatted and bantered with the audience throughout the set. “There’s no list for tonight,” Benoit shared as he transitioned between songs. “I’m just playing what I feel!” Benoit’s phenomenal musical expertise, laid back demeanor and ability to connect to the crowd kept audience members completely tuned in and focused…hanging on every note. “Music gets you through the rough times, when no one can say the right thing….but a song can,” Benoit passionately expressed, prompting a mass of cheers and applause, as this sentiment is felt by all who have music in their hearts and souls. As a touring musician for three decades, Benoit has spent long periods on the road. “You don’t know what your home is going to look like when you’ve been away for a month,” Benoit shared with a chuckle. “You get home, fix it up and then you gotta go right back out because it’s what the people want!” The thunderous cheers were a clear indication that indeed, this is what the people want.
As Lightnin’ Malcolm joined Benoit to culminate this night of Louisiana, swamp blues, the increased electricity on stage was matched by the heightened energy to the crowd, as hundreds of audience members rose to their feet, danced in the aisles and sang the blues. As the lights rose on the stage and the crowd began to disburse, enthusiasm and energy continued to linger in the air. As I gathered my things together I too remained taken by the incredible musical skills I witnessed that evening. Tab Benoit and his phenomenal guitar skills were just that…phenomenal. While taste in music is subjective, Benoit’s incredible artistry on the guitar supersedes boundaries and taste…he’s just that good! A performance not to be missed.