Words & Images by: Jake Krolick
Marco Benevento and Friends :: 01.31.08 :: Sullivan Hall :: New York, NY
Marco Benevento is the Kevin Bacon of the jam world. He's the glue bonding diverse people and genres. His demeanor and style embrace great musicians and amplify their talents. After a successful residency at Tonic in 2006, Benevento opened 2008 with a month at NYC's Sullivan Hall. Each week Benevento invited a different combo to sit in. The players have been from all over the map including Billy Martin, Stanton Moore, Calvin Weston, Skerik, Bobby Previte, Joe Russo and more.
The diversity of guests made each night unique. The unplanned sets morphed from stampeding progressive rock to straight-ahead jazz with a large gray area in-between. The run culminated on January 31 with a CD release party for Benevento's latest solo album, Invisible Baby (Hyena Records). For the occasion, Benevento showcased Reed Mathis and Slip drummer Andrew Barr, two of the album's unparalleled players.
As the last hours of January slipped away the crowd squeezed into Sullivan Hall. Artwork, including the Invisible Baby album cover painting, decorated the walls. The mob was lively and featured a rich blend of fans, writers and musicians including Marc Brownstein (Disco Biscuits) and Rolling Stone's famed writer-editor David Fricke. You couldn't walk five feet without stumbling into someone you knew, loved or respected.
Benevento's magnetic banjo riff and circuit bent effects propelled "Bus Ride" into a feisty romp through a fusion of jazz and rock. We took off into the big wide-open, treated to a glimpse of heaven through the music. Benevento dropped a heavy-handed march across his personal Baldwin Grand piano. God bless Sullivan Hall, who paid to move it from his home to the venue. The onstage projection artist smeared the room in colors as Barr and Mathis slugged out their own cavernous pocket filled with smashing cymbals and accentuated bass blasts. Benevento leaned forward as he twisted knobs, upping-the-ante with layered crescendos. This perfect combination of sound acted as a riptide pulling our bodies closer to the stage.
|A. Barr & Mathis :: 01.31|
Sullivan Hall's stage is a nice three footer, with only one wall holding the crowd from completely surrounding the band. Many moved in to flank Benevento. Wave after wave of frenzied fans pounded against the stage as the trio ran through a jaw-dropping segment kicked off with a straightforward "Real Morning Party." Andrew Barr tossed his Alaskan mullet hat aside to let his head breathe as he slammed into a double time drumbeat so catchy it's only a matter of time before Apple snatches it up for a commercial. Thursday's version wrapped its "Green Onions" meets Frankie and Annette arms around us in a warm blanket of piano, bass and Barr's kit smacking. The percussion instruments Benevento had handed out earlier shook with well-played crowd participation before the song playfully disintegrated into a haze.
Barr slammed directly into an animalistic mashing of his drums as he moved the band into Deerhoof's "Twin Killers." This polar opposite to "Real Morning Party" included Barr's frothy drum solo matching wits with Benevento's key beating. Barr's drumming danced on the edge of greatness calling to mind the ghosts of Elvin Jones and Keith Moon. Not since Benevento's similar pairing with Mike Dillon last year have the drums possessed such prevalent power and finesse.
Benevento slowed the set down with a simple and airy take on My Morning Jacket's "Golden." The simple arrangement provided Mathis the space to let loose with a bass clinic. He ground out a smooth, dynamic solo that could have inspired Lilith Crane to smile.
|Brad Barr :: 01.31|
Set One was a tasty little party that let our ears heat up. It made you anticipate the second set like you were awaiting the birth of your first child. During the setbreak, Benevento premiered a video for "Real Morning Party" concocted by Benevento and Michael DiDonna featuring a mish-mash of colorful clips of the Benevento Family's morning routine. It was another splendid touch and an honest peek at Benevento's tireless creative pursuit.
It's hard not to grin when reminiscing about Set Two. In the minds of many it will remain a standard of exploration and discovery, a reason to exist for live music fans for years to come. Set Two began with the trio attacking "Fearless." The Pink Floyd cover leapt out at us and grabbed our attention with a churning, crashing energy. Benevento brilliantly navigated the tempo with restraint, which allowed the trio to gradually build the song into a 20-minute-plus ballad that delved into freakishly wonderful textures. The three led us down their own rabbit hole on a heroic adventure, each eager to surprise us with what lay around the bend.
Meanwhile a techno club sprung to life below us. They steadily cranked up the bass as the hour grew later and started the whole floor rumbling. As we stood listening to Benevento and friends demolish jams our bodies shook to a completely different groove rising from below. Luckily you could only hear it between songs, but your body sure told you otherwise.
|The Barr Brothers :: 01.31|
As the epic second set continued Benevento, Mathis and Barr left their bodies to fully inhabit their instruments. Each shook off the preconceived limitations as they propelled the music forward with uncanny ability. Benevento's keys and circuit bending toys worked an amazing contrast as they teetered on the edge of madness. He was a surgeon slashing open slick, bloody gashes of sound and then subtly sewing them up with nimble fingers and courageous ideas.
After unleashing a tweaked reprise of the "Real Morning Party," Brad Barr joined the trio as they transitioned into Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better." The addition of his brave, raw guitar filled out a patch in the music reserved just for him. Brad caught fire as his muddy style latched onto the music. We danced out of Carly Simon's cover into a spiraling jam that ventured around an addictive, bluesy lick. The songs bled together into one long glorious tale.
"Mephisto" captured the night's wonderment and brought it full circle with another helping of the "Real Morning Party." Benevento deconstructed the fourth version of the happy tune and placed it as a piano tease. There are barely words left to describe the rendition of The Zombies' "She's Not There" that closed the show. Its slow, sultry build flowered into brilliance as Brad placed his final stamp on the night. His tattered guitar riffs fused with Benevento's elegant keys, catapulting both instruments into a fervent embrace. The drum and bass provided a smooth surface for the piano and guitar to exchange moaning screams of pleasure. Their sultry exchange ended and the trio began a brave romp through the red light district. Benevento's piano danced freely with raw passion and injected the crowd with shots of desire. The whole evening was a music lover's wet dream, but this finale was that rare bottle of single malt scotch tucked away in the cellar only to be tasted on special occasions.
01.31.08 :: Sullivan Hall :: New York, NY
Set I: Bus Ride, Record Book, The Real Morning Party, Twin Killers (Deerhoof), Golden (My Morning Jacket), Atari, Ruby, Are You The Favorite Person of Anybody?
Set II: Fearless (Pink Floyd), If You Keep Asking Me, You Must Be A Lion, The Real Morning Party, Nobody Does It Better (Carly Simon), Jam, Mephisto, She's Not There (Zombies)
Marco Benevento & Friends at Sullivan Hall - 1/31/08
You can download this show at www.nyctaper.com.
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