11/01/14 – Cafe 939

On a cold, rainy autumn evening, the place you want to be is a Benjamin Cartel show. Opening for Larkin Poe at Café 939 last Saturday, Benjamin Cartel delivered some moody, relaxing singer-songwriter tunes that matched the rainy day vibes.

With Cartel on the acoustic guitar and an accompaniment by an electric guitarist and an electric bassist, it sounded as if John Lennon was playing Paul Simon songs. Cartel kicked off with several songs from his new EP, Money and Love. “Julia” was especially Simon & Garfunkel-esque, with a smooth three-part harmony and a softly sung, repetitive chorus: “Julia / I’m not foolin’ ya.”

In a small venue with a relatively small crowd, there was enough space for the audience to sit on the ground. The folksy vibes felt more like an outdoor festival; the only things missing were the light breeze and soft patches of grass. With music perfect for slow dancing, Cartel hit its target demographic spot on. The show drew a relatively older crowd for a town saturated with college students.

Cartel’s manner in addressing the audience suited this atmosphere well — his tone, dark and somber, but his remarks were surprisingly humorous, refreshingly honest, and wonderfully deadpan. It was a pleasant contrast to his melancholic music, which became especially prominent during the introduction to a song about the cat he happened to be catsitting. (“It’s like babysitting, but with cats” he said.) As with most of his music, the song was relaxed with hints of sadness, but he wasn’t kidding in that introduction. It was literally about a cat.

Cartel also managed to poke fun at his hometown, Brooklyn, New York. “This is a song about a Midwestern state…” he pauses, “of mind.” Although his music is not entirely innovative for his genre, the Americana vibes he gives off are not what you would expect from the hipster, alternative-rock sector of the Big Apple. But Cartel managed to give a nod to that scene with a “Swingin’ Party” cover by alt-rock pioneers, The Replacements. (Yep, it’s actually not a Lorde original.)

Cartel really grabbed my attention with a song he wrote about a friend in Chicago who passed away, which reveals that even years later, Cartel still has his friend’s phone number saved on his phone. Though Cartel’s subject matter was varied, the sound of each song was similar. The set was barely 45 minutes long, and the crowd was somewhat subdued. But on a rainy day, a Benjamin Cartel show was the place to be.

Rainy Mood Music for a Rainy Night: Benjamin Cartel
Pros
  • Deadpan audience interaction was humorous
  • Can jump from light to serious subject matter without causing shock
Cons
  • Standard singer-songwriter music
7.1Overall Score

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