Marco Benevento Trio | 02.03 | Oakland

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Josh Miller

Marco Benevento Trio :: 02.03.09 (Late Show) :: Yoshi's :: Oakland, CA

Marco Benevento Trio :: 02.03 :: Oakland
Much like Marco Benevento's newly released Me Not Me (read JamBase's review here), the late show at intimate, acoustically perfect Yoshi's Oakland began in a swirl of stardust. As the music solidified, I found myself wondering, mouth agape, "What do you call this stuff?" It ain't jazz or rock in any orthodox sense, nor is it laptop music or even avant-garde in their most common forms. A touch too odd for the mainstream and maybe not "off" enough for The Wire crowd, what Benevento, Reed Mathis (electric bass) and Andrew Barr (drums) do together is raw AND smarty-pants clever, primordial ooze grape stomped until there's nectar shots for everyone – an inclusive concoction meant to be enjoyed by all regardless of their place on the listening spectrum.

Set aside the blinding skill of these three for a moment and just reflect on the feel they generate together. Each has spent their career complicating expectations and steadily expanding the possibilities of their craft. At a base level, they enjoy unhindered freedom but also understand the value of practice, technique and more book learnin' ways. Mark Twain once remarked, "A smart person knows all the rules so he can break them wisely," and there's few better living examples of that adage than this trio. Not unlike the triptych of Les Claypool, Mike Dillon and Skerik, these three are forging their own private language, and with no vocalist hogging the spotlight it's easy to eavesdrop. This first Tuesday of Benevento's February residency at Yoshi's, where his collaborators will shift each week, offered an up-close glimpse of one the most vibrant instrumental combos today with positively explosive chemistry and a genuinely exciting aura that anything, just anything, is possible when they gather.

Marco Benevento :: 02.03
Benevento's pleasure in playing alongside Barr and Mathis is apparent in his rarely absent smile and the repeated introduction/applause fishing for his bandmates after almost every song. "That's Reed Mathis over there. Learn to Reed!" he laughed. "My name is Pocahontas on the piano." To which a wiseass in the crowd yelped, "How!" like it was an episode of F Troop. Benevento's response? "Yes, how do?" Spontaneity lurks like a goblin in Benevento's schema, waiting impatiently to goose the beat or wrench chaos from ebullient loveliness (or vice-versa). They are the mischief makers and the dreamers of dreams, and having a ringside seat is bloody entertaining.

This last point – entertainment – is an under-recognized aspect of Benevento's relatively quick rise in the live music world. He's fun to watch and those he ensnares with his newfangled music seem to have a complete blast, Barr and Mathis very much included this night, where quite serious musicianship was slapped with sloppy blobs of echo and glowing reverb – small, inspired touches that kept the ground unstable enough for no one, musicians and audience alike, to become complacent. The rush of ideas and interesting noises was further complicated by Jay Cooper's excellent live visuals on a screen behind the trio, though in total honesty they were hardly necessary. Close your eyes and this music directs fully decorated scenes behind your lids, a moving play of shapes, ideas and colors that made my heart race two beats faster and sent me into the night wanting to re-read Jung.

Benevento, in his way, strikes me as a kindred spirit to folks like Richard Feynman or Noam Chomsky - brilliant minds that grasp the über-structure of things in a way most of us never will. His intense focus while slowly turning an effects knob or slicing in keyboard flourishes atop his Steinway thunder is something to behold, and it was clear despite rehearsals that much of what we heard was generated in the moment, as much a surprise to the guys onstage as anyone. All this vibrancy came through in the propulsive, authoritative clatter of Barr (who, simply put, has never sounded better or more nakedly powerful), the exhaustingly creative piano runs of Benevento, and in the largely pocket playing of Mathis, who startlingly is the "quiet" one in this group. What Mathis excelled at in this set was commenting on and accentuating the positive in what Benevento and Barr were doing, easing off his "lead bass" ways in JFJO a bit and finding crannies that actually needed filling.

Andrew Barr :: 02.03
Naturally, the focus is the big black piano and the articulate fingers and feet working it. Benevento seems hell-bent on honoring and learning from anyone who's ever rocked a piano right, so there's plenty of jazz ancestors in his sound (these ears pick up the wide landscapes and movement of Ahmad Jamal, the angular brightness of Abdullah Ibrahim and the profound emotion of Don Pullen) but also flashes of Liberace, Billy Joel, Tom Waits, Jerry Lee Lewis, robot-rock Herbie and oodles more. All of which serves his current inclination to adapt pop into wild new forms stripped of language, yet made to speak in ways more subtle than syllables and sentences.

Beck's "Sing It Again" was given a mournful, largely solo rendering, and their exquisite take on The Zombies' "She's Not There" simply leaves me stymied (a rare, rare feat for an opinionated clatter-trap like myself). Zeppelin's "Friends" got a 21st century jellyroll treatment, and Leonard Cohen's "Seems So Long Ago Nancy" was gold flecked and full of heavy lifting bubbles, romance refined into perfumed notes. After a bouncing run through The Knife's "Heartbeats," Benevento said, "That was the first time we've done that like that," as succinct a distillation of the improvised arts as ever spoken. "It was my song of the year [in 2008]. I listen to it three times a day," he added with a chuckle. Then, acknowledging the kickoff of his residency, he remarked, "I get to come back! I love your country!"

Several times during the show and again afterwards, I found myself reduced to saying, "That was re-dunk-u-lous!" Uttered with swirling eyes and a dry mouth, it's reflective of the impact this trio possesses. Like other vaguely speculative music (Subtle, TV on the Radio, Buck 65, Akron/Family), there's insatiable curiosity driving this trio. Where Benevento's vision differs from the cited peers is his recognition of the pathos in pop, which he transmogrifies into amazing new forms that caper oh-so-winningly.

Marco is on tour now; dates available here.

Check our exclusive 2009 feature/interview with Marco Benevento here.

Continue reading for a few more pics of Marco and the boys in Oakland...

JamBase | Oaksterdam
Go See Live Music!

Take full advantage of all JamBase has to offer by signing up for an account!

You'll receive

show alerts

when your favorite artists announce shows, be eligible to enter contests for

free tickets

, gain the ability to

share your personalized live music calendar

and much more. Join JamBase!



Justin Ward starstarstarstarstar Fri 2/6/2009 06:02PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Justin Ward

That was an amazingly well written account of what happened that night. I was left nothing short of breathless, only wishing in some ways that I could hear this night of music some time in the future. Truly beautiful. Truly the stuff of musical genius that few of us will ever understand.

I'm forever inspired by Marco Benevento and the music that he creates. We are amazingly lucky to be able to be in his presence.

MaseBase starstarstarstar Fri 2/6/2009 06:11PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I wanted SO BADLY to be at this show. Regretting I didn't go. Great review Dennis

pornofunk starstarstarstarstar Fri 2/6/2009 06:34PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


man, this must have been good, that ALOT of talent on one stage,

*and im pretty sure reed isnt human

karinihadalumpyhead Fri 2/6/2009 07:34PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


marco's new album 'me not me' is out now...

check out the promo vid:

NJW star Sat 2/7/2009 12:41AM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

"Benevento, in his way, strikes me as a kindred spirit to folks like Richard Feynman or Noam Chomsky - brilliant minds that grasp the über-structure of things in a way most of us never will." - Really....?

iwantstogetfunkedup Sat 2/7/2009 09:58AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

^^ I agree. I love your writing Dennis, but thats a bit over the top!

Marcsmall Sat 2/7/2009 10:12AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I don't think there are enough articles/reviews about Benevento/Russo on jambase lately.

schofizzl Sat 2/7/2009 12:12PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


^^that's exactly what i was about to post. nothing against the guys i don't even know anything about them really, but damn, share the coverage jambase!

bluefox starstarstarstarstar Sat 2/7/2009 02:32PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Well it is a big time for Marco with his new Album, Yoshi's run and West Coast touring. When it rains and pours over here, remember My Morning Jacket time right before New Years?

This show was awesome! I love the Duo but personally I find that I like Marco's solo stuff more. More melody and less electronic wank...

Another great review by Dennis though he does go over the top with the rhetorical flourishes. Also Marco is obviously a really bight fellow but Richard Feynman or Noam Chomsky? I am not sure...

ao1 Sat 2/7/2009 02:40PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


If I could see any drummer live today it would unquestionably be Andrew Barr.

phishmann starstarstarstarstar Sun 2/8/2009 11:16AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


His music even cures the common cold!

brienza66 Mon 2/9/2009 11:31AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

right on ao1, andrew barr is an animal. For the past few years i have been dying to hear andrew play some out of control drums.. like the pre-the slip is an indie band days...

mickrod420 Mon 2/9/2009 01:13PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

hipster. Russo is dirty.

Window starstarstarstarstar Mon 2/9/2009 03:24PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Loved the two sets 2/3.

Can't wait for tomorrow night!

santacruzin Mon 2/9/2009 07:45PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

saw the trio in portland last saturday. 1st time getting to see em with barr. i practically stood over him the whole night, just mesmorized. the guys feet never stop moving about 250 bpm. wow.

makelevees starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/10/2009 09:35AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I really am looking forward to tonights show! Perhaps we can meet each other. You will be the one on hands and knees in front of the stage weeping and hugging yourself in front of benevento. I will be the one in the back corner of the room putting my head in the devil's mouth with skerik and illy B ;) Seriously, though, cheers to being so inspired by the music!

mario2986 starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/10/2009 04:34PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

This is how all articles should read.

The1AndOnlyDJCT starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/10/2009 09:24PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Great review, great pictures, honestly, I've felt the same way after seeing this trio play, they're amazing!