Three things that need immediate attention concerning the Ben Daniels Band: 1. Yes, Ben’s father is in fact Jeff Daniels. Now that’s out of the way, 2. The band is really good, and 3. Daniels clearly understands the importance of top-notch shoelaces.
Let’s focus for a moment on that last point. At the show I saw at the Blind Pig last December, Daniels led the band onstage in an oversized sports coat, black ski cap, red pants, and black shoes with mesmerizing bright blue laces. Positioned center stage between vocalist/percussionist Amanda Merte and guitarist and vocalist George Merkel, the tall and imposing musician cuts an intriguing front man, and Merte, dressed entirely in black—skirt, tights, and top—lends ample support. Tommy Reifel on bass and Wesley Fritzemeier on drums/mandolin/backing vocals fill out the lineup.
I’d heard them described as “folk-rock,” but that’s a fairly inaccurate description of the band I heard—I’d place them closer to the Talking Heads both in overall sound and song construction. Daniels later explained that seven of the eight original songs played that night were new, and that their newer material was written at and for festivals and therefore has a “bigger” sound.
The Talking Heads comparison has less to do with Daniels’ David Byrne–esque sports coat, which was discarded several songs into the set, than with the instrumental interplay and the manner in which the songs are put together. There are other artistic bands, such as Television and Modern Lovers, that could also be referenced, but Daniels’ voice and singing style are closer to Byrne’s. “Beach Bums,” the second song of their set, is an excellent example of this complex and layered music, merged with playful, simply delivered lyrics.
Merte took over lead vocal duties on a version of Nico Vega’s “Medicine Man”—Daniels noted it was the band’s first live performance of the song. Her vocals add a nice contrast to the boys’, and Daniels says the band is working on a few more songs in which she’ll sing lead. The highlight of the show, though, was the slick-bluesy “Rattlesnake.” It begins with a raunchy ZZ Top–type sound and morphs into an instrumental swirl of slide guitar. Daniels says the band hopes to put out a new album with “Rattlesnake” as the featured track, though the song could be released earlier. The show ended with a rowdy version of the Allman Brothers Band classic “Midnight Rider,” which they deconstructed into a “Dear Prudence” tease before rebuilding again.
The Ben Daniels Band is musically tight, plays really interesting songs, and exerts a ton of energy. This is definitely a band worth seeing again and again.
The Ben Daniels Band is at the Ark on Saturday, November 22.