Words by Gabriela Kerson :: Images by Greg Aiello
The Freaks Ball VI :: 01.21.06 :: Coda :: New York, NY
There are few of us out there. People who scour websites, tape shows, and speak in dates and town names. "I was there - Atlantic City '96. I saw them play. Do you remember that jam? I can't believe he sat in!" This music obsession can be a dirty little secret that other people don't understand. Maybe you can't pay your rent, but you'll drive six hours to stand outside the back door of a venue in hopes that a strain of music will float through. In New York, there's a name for these people: the NYC Freaks.
The Freaks :: 01.21 :: Coda
On January 21st, at Coda in Midtown Manhattan, The NYC Freaks hosted the sixth annual Freaks Ball. Noted as the event that helped introduce Robert Randolph to the world way back in January of 2001, FB VI again provided a forum for the best of bands and friends to gather. Organized by Aaron Stein, who founded the Freaks List as well as a weekly update of what shows not to miss around NY, the Freaks Ball featured three of the best underground bands in New York, giving all of us fanatics a chance to get together to listen to some of our favorites. They know we're taping, and that's ok.
In December, Stein learned that the Tribeca Rock Club, site of that first Freaks Ball, found it necessary to close the doors. He decided to hold a battle of the bands there to mark the closing of one of the Freaks' favorite venues. The winners earned the opening slot at FB VI. That band, Secret Government, invited members of the five other bands in the battle to sit in with them throughout the Coda show. Featuring Ball co-organizer JR Hevron on the bass, Andy Kahn on Drums, and Bill Ogg on guitar, all three joined in on vocals. It was not breathtaking, but it was pretty cute. They played "Tallboy" in a nod to the Widespread Panic fans that initially gathered together to form the Freaks List, and on the last song, "Buffalo," they finally seemed to get over their stage fright and really jam.
Joe Russo :: 01.21 :: Coda
Metzgerville recently finished a residency at the Knitting Factory with a different bass player and drummer. This time, front man Scott Metzger (Danjaboots, RANA) asked his old friends Dave Dreiwitz (Ween) and Ryan Thornton (RANA, Sam Champion) to join him. With Kevin Kendrick (Fat Mama) on the vibes, the joyous, boyish energy of Metzgerville took over the stage. Catching him for the first time three weeks ago, I became an instant Metzger fan. With his quirky grin and lighting-fast hands, the slightly shy guitarist and songwriter has Rock Star written all over him. Those who saw this incarnation of his band hope it will become a permanent thing. They played mostly covers and my new favorite song, a Metzger original titled "Go Home Hippy." Dreiwitz and Thornton had an immensely entertaining cross-stage connection making each other and the audience laugh at their riffs and funny faces. You could recognize the tremendous level of comfort on stage, making it feel extremely personal. They were all free to experiment, but more just to have fun. Kendrick, the only holdover from Metzgerville's last grouping, kept a back seat position true to his placement on the stage. His contributions to the music felt well-timed and complementary. The audience, still settling in, muttered and moved while old friends caught up with each other. Unfortunately, only the captivated first few rows could really see what was going on. They ended with The Kinks' "I'm Not Like Everybody Else," which we all could relate to.
Scott Metzger :: 01.21 :: Coda
The main event featured headliner Coxygen. This inventive collaboration pairs the Benevento/Russo Duo with Skerik on saxophonics and Mike Dillon on percussion. The Duo has played The Freaks Ball in the past, and it was actually their road manager Bronko who came up with the idea to feature this rare grouping. Each among the best in their field, these four musicians excel at experimental playing. From the first note, Skerik singing out "I feel like making love," they moved in four completely different directions. They quickly and easily reached that elusive interwoven fourth dimension of music for which we are always looking: the intuitive jam.
Skerik, Dillon, Benevento :: 01.21 :: Coda
Starting just after midnight, they played till 4 a.m. The innovative songs lasted for as long as half an hour. The music jumped from slow and melodic to hard-driving and rhythmic. The Duo seemed to lead, with Skerik wailing on the sax and jumping in from time to time to tell a story or to emphasize a riff. Dillon, switching from timbales to congas and from tambourine to triangle to the vibes, was low key. He played some amazing drill-style beats with Russo and enhanced Benevento's organ with the vibes. As usual, Mike D added a level of maturity and thoughtfulness to the music.
The Duo alone reach new levels in music. Their energy together comforts, especially as they push the limits of improvisation. Benevento, known for his big eyes and flirty looks, was over the top, grinning at the audience and his band mates, egging them on. As the hour got later, his playing got even better, hitting its peak just before the show ended.
Marco Benevento :: 01.21 :: Coda
"Joe Russo has the ability to give anyone an attention span. That's power," says Kendrick. Anchoring the music from the side of the stage, Russo kept his head down for most of the night. Analyzing what he needed to play to bring the fullest sound to the mix and balancing Benevento's melodic ramblings, he attacked his kit with the confidence and technique that have given him the reputation as one of the best drummers on the scene. Russo hit the rock groove while Benevento stayed close to his jazz roots. Skerik and Dillon existed more on the acid jazz meets punk rock side of the spectrum. When the music finally stopped, the crowd stumbled outside musically sated, smiling about an evening that was, to quote Dave Dreiwitz: "Lots of music, lots of intensity."
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