The Scene: As I rounded the corner of 13th and Grant I could feel the bass pulsating from inside the walls of Quixote’s True Blue. This was a good sign. When I walked through the door all five of my senses were assaulted, in a good way. Before I could become fully cognizant of the crowd before me—the most I’ve seen in the front room of Quixote’s yet—I felt the heat of bodies in motion. My ears were bombarded by the cacophony that is The People’s Abstract, the opener for the night. Although the bar was slammed, a beer magically appeared in my hand, attributed no doubt to the wizardry of Jay Bianchi. Not having to fight through the lines made the frosty brew taste that much better. As I stood in the middle of the crowd enjoying the grooves, Marco Benevento walked past me. The guy next to me whispered to his buddy, “There’s Marco right there.” As Benevento stood at the bar securing drinks for his band, as every good bandleader should, a not too nefarious looking character kept tapping him on the shoulder. Benevento, the down to earth guy he is, smiled and gave his fan a nod. The cat just stood there and stared. You know you’ve made it when people whisper and act strangely around you…but where was I in my sensory description? Ah yes! I smelled…well, you’ve been in the middle of a fired up throng at Quixote’s so I’ll let you finish that one…I on the other hand smelled a night of great music cookin’.
Opener: The People’s Abstract. Cookin’ was exactly what The People’s Abstract were doing that night. I couldn’t help but be reminded of some Miles Davis shows I have circa 1971. If Miles pioneered Jazz Fusion than these guys are Jazz Fission. The shit is atomic! I was impressed by their ability to not only switch gears but to come to an absolute stop and one-eighty into something completely different, seemingly at the flick of a hand signal. Their grooves rely on the foundation that drummer Evan Fullmar and bassist Sean Dandurand throw down. Dandurand is fun bass player to watch, eyes closed, mouth agape, in a different world as the perfect mix of pounding, pulsating rhythm and melodic jazz finesse swirl around him. Keyboardist Bill Weirich plays the electric piano like Hancock but isn’t afraid to pound it like Medeski. Saxophonist Kyle Stersic and guitarist Justin Avdek round out the sound with the bells and whistles. Their playing gives the band its frantic, sometimes chaotic sound. If Fullmar and Dandurand are the atomic blast then Stersic, Weirich, and Avdek are the radioactive fallout. If one doesn’t get you the other will. It’s hard to believe that this band from Boulder has only been around since October 2012. Watch out for these guys; they won’t be an opening band for long.
Marco Benevento: When The People’s Abstract finished there was a mass exodus to the main room and when I walked through the double doors, the place was already packed. Benevento’s piano was as close to the edge of the stage as possible and he was interacting with the front row. By the time I got to the front Benevento was beginning the second song of the set, “Fireworks,” a cut off his new album, Tigerface. The song has a whimsical piano riff and is reminiscent of a pleasant stroll through the English countryside, over verdant rolling hills and down shady, leafy lanes. I’m not sure whether Benevento has been to England but that is where this song transports me every time I hear it.
After the mellowness of “Fireworks,” Dave Dreiwitz of Ween busted out a slide fuzz bass solo that signaled the intro to another song off Tigerface, “Escape Horse.” If “Fireworks” is Jolly Old England then “Escape Horse” is The Wild West. The song’s dashing piano riffs make you feel as if you are sitting at a poker table in a saloon as eyes around the table twitch, the all-night girls beckon from the balconies, hands slide uneasily over six shooters under the table. When someone is caught cheating the table is upended, poker chips and whiskey fly through the air, Benevento’s thunderous riff comes in signaling the hero to run for his horse tethered outside and ride through the desert.
Benevento nailed blistering piano runs as the band jammed the end of the song out. His sixty-one key upright shook violently and looked to be in danger of falling apart as Benevento slammed his elbow down on the pedals adorning the poor piano’s sheet music platform to end the song. Maybe I have an overactive imagination but much more likely: Marco Benevento is a badass.
These two songs are great examples of the brilliance in Benevento’s songwriting. His songs are teleporters and time machines, whisking audiences away to forgotten times, faraway places and different states of consciousness. His covers are craftily chosen as well. After hyping then thanking the audience, Benevento introduced “Heartbeats” by The Knife, which was featured on his second solo album, Me Not Me. Although The Knife is a brother and sister Swedish electronic group, the song suits Benevento perfectly. It started out with a rhythm on the drum machine followed by a hook riff ending in crescendo and decrescendo piano jaunts soaked in reverb and haunted by sustain. Benevento is known for his obscure covers but “Heartbeats” reveals the deep and eclectic musical scholar in Benevento.
After a majestic “Eagle Rock,” also off Tigerface, Benevento solicited some audience participation by having the crowd count off the next song, “The Real Morning Party.” The tune had a catchy, upbeat melody, which Benevento sang and played on the M Audio synthesizer perched atop his piano. Oh, and the Elton John sunglasses came out. The band ended the set strong with the Rock and Roll Jazz-fusion “Going West.” I call it fusion because the drums, bass, and piano melody were very Rock and Roll and yet Benevento’s solos were pure Jazz. There was even an almost imperceptible “Eleanor Rigby” tease. The song ended with a beautifully dynamic breakdown and build up with Andy Borger playing like a madman over Benevento’s escalating piano that exploded into wild Jazz flourishes. As he looked out from behind his purple Elton glasses, Benevento certainly did not need to urge the crowd to stick around; he had the crowd feeling that Saturday night was more than all right.
Having already played many of the songs off his new album it was time to have a little fun in the second set. Sandwiched inside a rocking version of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good,” (that featured Benevento playing the melody and taking scorching piano solos) were two songs off the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, the surfer anthem “Misirlou” and the iconic “Rumble.” If that wasn’t enough, towards the end of the set the band surged into Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” then “Benny And The Jets,” and back into “Fearless.”
Covers aside, strategically peppered into the second set were two more songs off Tigerface. The highly danceable “Limbs Of A Pine,” and the Flaming Lips-esque “This Is How It Goes.” As promised “Limbs” had Kalmia Travers’s vocals as well as all the dancey sounds and rhythms that are on the record, but don’t let this fool you, the unique covers and freeform experimentation on the originals make Marco Benevento Trio a dish best served live. Don’t take my word for it. The show is available for download on archive.org thanks to Corey Sandoval of KIND Recordings.
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: B