I am an unabashed fan of the Duo – Marco Benevento and Joe Russo - but when I tell you that their show on back on Friday, August 29th on the Rocks Off Boat Cruise was the best music I've seen this year, I speak in no uncertain terms. You see, I had a dream of these ever-grinning gentlemen taking the East River by storm with a set comprised completely of Led Zeppelin covers and on the last Friday of the summer my vision came to fruition. In fact, the cruise defied my imagination with nearly three hours of sonic capitulation that hurts my brain and tickles my ears to think about it now a week later.

There was a little extra magic in the air as the man who made it all happen, Jake – the man who put the 'n' in rock 'n' roll – was celebrating 30 years of life and mulletdom on the boat. Throw in the scintillating axe-shredding of Scott Metzger of Rana fame and you had yourself the show of the summer.

By Greg Aiello
As the boat left the pier and took on the thick air of a sleepy summer, Joe and Marco took their place and got the crowd moving with a handful of originals, most featured on their excellent, go-pick-it-up-now live album Darts. Marco seemed to control the waters itself as the boat seemed to lurch in time with the music, making dancing either easier or more difficult, depending on how quickly your sea legs were kicking in. Legs or not, the tunes were cutting to the crowds core inciting the tight group of a couple hundred to yelp with glee as the jams battled for time with the towering architecture of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges above. A telling sign of the power of the evening was the heavy hitters in attendance, e.g. Stanton Moore, Cheme Gastelum and MOFRO's JJ Grey amongst others were all there just checking out the music and getting down like the rest of us. When the music is this good, we are all together looking on in amazement.

There is nothing quite like a band who knows the perfect balance of well-penned originals and perfect-choice covers in their repertoire. The Duo exemplifies this in my mind. The second set we'll get to in just a sec, but even within the first set this phenomenon manifest itself with tasty tunes like "Big Whopper" and "Marzipan" butting heads with covers of The White Stripes (Seven Nation Army) and Ozzy (The Wizard) and a little Radiohead would pop up in the encore as well. Thrown in all over the place were literally dozens of jolting teases of Zeppelin tunes popping up in the unlikeliest of places. I can't recall if I've ever heard of a drummer doing teases, but Joe Russo was even getting in on the fun as he teased a couple of tell-tale John Bonham licks getting the audience amped with each rat-a-tat-tat. But with each tease the pair would pull back and when the crowd finally chimed in with some Robert Plant imitations, Marco continued to give us musical blue balls with the biggest tease of all: "not yet... not yet!" Finally a little taste came in the form of a jumping the gun play of Zep's "Four Sticks" which rivaled any version I've heard Joe and Marco play.

A stop at the Statue of Liberty and a setbreak later, the lubricated crowd found their elbowroom for the main event. Whew! Where to begin? Here's how we've scored the second set:

The Song Remains The Same, Heartbreaker, Moby Dick, Rain Song, Ramble On, What Is And What Should Never Be* > Black Dog+, Bring It On Home > Good Times, Bad Times > Bring It On Home

* w/ multiple "Out On the Tiles" teases
** w/ Joe Russo on vocals (including ad lib when he forgot the words)

By Dennis Cook
I knew Scott Metzger had "it," but his performance during this stretch of brain-melting music bumped him up to a significant slot on my "list." From note #1 he was channeling Jimmy Page's spirit circa 1970, although somehow never sounding like he was an imitation in the very least. Just dirty, nasty, blistering lead guitar the way Zeppelin was made to be played. I'm going to have to pull my typical "I could go on and on about this, but will spare you the superlatives" on the synapse burning Mr Metzger laid on the Half Moon Cruise ship that night.

The word was that the now-trio had rehearsed the crap out of the material and it showed all the way through. This was no simple jog-through a few covers kind of set, but was rather a full-contact, burn the final drops of summertime oil experience. Joe, Marco and Scott took a quartet plus' worth of music and transformed it into a three-man tour-de-force. While Scott took the guitar parts and Joe took the drums, Marco was free to reinterpret both the bass and vocals and miscellaneous and his arrangements were blissful experiments in redefining classic rock and roll. The song choices explored both your standard FM radio fare as well as some more heady choices; fast, head-banging rock and roll and slower, melodic grooves. I haven't had that much fun both dancing my ass off and trying hard to concentrate deeply on how these guys were pulling it off. What surprised me the most was how the set was mapped out with teases and stop-starts and segues and sandwiches all punctuating the covers themselves. The "What Is and What Should Never Be" which is a standard Duo cover (and even appears as a hidden track on Darts (pick it up now!)) took on new life both with Scott on guitar and late in its life when Marco dropped the trio into "Out On the Tiles" then back again and then back into "Tiles." The crowd was pleasantly seasick at this exchange which segued tightly into the quintessentially Zeppelin "Black Dog." This brought out the biggest shocker, which was Sir Joe Russo falsettoing, his best Plant imitation on the lyrics that he playfully screwed up to the delight of the crowd. My second JoRu highlight was "Ramble On" in which he replicated the hand-clapping percussion from the original with a heady hands-on-knee drumming which hit the spot perfectly.

By Greg Aiello
As the boat slowly made its way back to shore, the band appropriately started up the slow blues of "Bring It On Home" which made way for more fortified rocking out. This segued smartly into a monster "Good Times, Bad Times" which had the entire crowd singing along once again. Back into "Bring It On Home" and we were all quite sure we didn't want to go home yet.

We weren't quite at the pier yet and the audience wanted to make sure they got their full three-hour tour, so the Duo returned and promptly played a different sort of cover: Radiohead's "Paranoid Android." Perfect choice as Marco, as always, nailed the quiet, textured fugue sections while Joe waits patiently for the rockin' hook section. Back to the originals for the second song of the encore for which they called out another cruiser, Soulive's Eric Krasno.

Aside: A lot of folks often give me the "Duo is good, but they're better when someone sits in so they should become a trio or quartet or..." argument to which I always must respectfully disagree. I don't disagree that a lot of times they take it up a notch when someone sits in. Scott Metzger in the second set of the show reviewed herein is example number one. But Kras' work in the encore (which was phenomenal in every way that Scott wasn't during the second set: quiet and building and nuanced in a slow-building groove that was a perfect dessert to the biggest steak dinner of a rock and roll show you could ask for with the Manhattan skyline cruising by) is why you will never convince me you are right. When you sound so good with so many different musicians (in so many different ways), why would you ever want to tie yourself down to one person and one direction? The list of Duo guests is long and semi-distinguished and will certainly get longer and more remarkable and by keeping things going they remain the most flexible band out there right now. Not to mention that I think they kick some serious ass on their own and tweaking by addition is certain to ruin the absolutely phenomenal chemistry that these two guys have going right now.

So: get the tapes (and excuse any instance of the crazy guy screaming at the stage, that was me losing my marbles) and rest-assured that, by rule, this has to happen again.

Ned-O-Matic: 5 stars (out of 5).

Aaron Stein
JamBase | New York
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 9/25/03]

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!