30 November 2006

Review: Benevento/Mathis/Chamberlain

Tonic, 29 November 2006

Does it always have to be transcendent? Not necessarily, but it helps. Marco Benevento drew his 5-week-month at Tonic to a close last night with Matt Chamberlain and Reid Mathis rounding out an honest-to-goodness band for once. In many ways, the residency had been building to this night and the crowd and energy in the room reflected that sentiment -- it was as if the sum of the audiences from the previous 4 nights arrived for their curtain call, not to mention a few musicians that graced the stage.

That was my first impression of the night: the most "all star" band in the room might have consisted of people in the crowd which was peppered with some of my favorites: Metzger, Carlock, Scheinman, Dreiwitz and more. The presence of Keith Carlock was particularly tough to take because I felt for large stretched of the night, particularly in the first set that the drumming was subpar, and this in turn ruined a lot of wonderful playing by both Marco and Reid for me. Is it sacrilege to say so? Well, that's just the way I saw it. This was true from the get-go when the night started with some formless improv; Chamberlain just did not sound or even look comfortable in this setting and from here on out stuck out to me like a Hasid at a strip club. As far as my ears were concerned, he was never in anticipation of where the music wanted to go and thus was often a step behind, reacting, not acting. This fizzled any hopes of organic chemistry on the stage and left a lot of the first set limp. Although it did seem to get better as it went on and, not wanting to gripe too much, the piano and bass playing was really spectacular on its own merits, although I couldn't call it "tight." The enthusiasm and joy and just flat-out physical movements that radiate from guys like Benevento and Mathis are hard to ignore and tough not to be sucked in by.

Marco played about 2/3 on the piano and the rest on the only other keyboard he had, one of those ultra-funky throwback keyboards that ellicited the perfect sounds at just the right moments. The first set featured a couple covers including another Radiohead song (which was, frankly, lifeless... and no, I believe I know no Radiohead song titles) and a few "new" Benevento originals which were, surprise, quite, quite good. Mathis played his usual deep, dirty bass with plenty of effects and distortion, but almost always the right amount. At times he is closer to a guitar player than the gatekeeper of the low end and this suited this night just fine. My only complaint with his performance was that it wasn't high enough in the mix -- turn that shit up!! Frankly, I would have loved to have seen these two play just a Duo, with a drum machine if need be, in lieu of that first set. Speaking of guitar, late in the first set and multiple times in the second, Marco went "electric" with the piano, feeding it through some wonderful distortion, an effect that really made some of the songs. Never heard a distortion-laden grand piano like that and it was a pretty thrilling sound -- just the kind of thing you'd expect to flow from the mind of Marco.

While the first set was C+ and probably the worst of the 4 I saw, the second set was a whole 'nother story, quite easily the best of the run, no arguments. I wouldn't say the drumming all of the sudden approached the sublime, but the band certainly tightened and loosened up simultaneously over the break and came out with some nasty stuff. Lots of covers in there once again with a lot of repeats from the solo set two weeks ago. In a lot of ways that solo show, while brilliant in its own right, was like a warm-up for last night's show. The Leonard Cohen song from that night was gorgeous as a solo multi-layered piece; last night it may have been the best thing I've heard all year: goosebumps, chills, teardrops. "Fearless" opened the solo show to great effect but midway through the second set last night was a Pink-in-the-center-all-beef patty, with Reid garnishing with some deliciously Floyd-esque licks. "Goldfinger" (or whatever Bond tune that is) was poignant and solid but last night was a powerful anthem, a hold-up-your-lighter-and-sway build to climax. There was a whole lot more, originals, jams, etc. and the crowd seemed to grow to a really healthy size as the night wore on, which is as it should be. Late in the set a violin player hopped on stage and joined in quite nicely, although I, being the selfish and cranky bastard that I am, would have preferred it if it were Jenny.

Tonic is one of those schizophrenic clubs the city serves up so well. Is it an intimate, plush jazz room or an exposed brick rock hall? Is it a place to sit down and close your eyes letting the otherworldly music take you "there" or is it a place to stand up, shake yer ass and go boozehound on a Wednesday night? Is it an old-school LES dump or something more upscale in the shadow of newfangled, bluefangled condominiums, Williamsburg West? Marco Benevento fit right into this aesthetic and grabbed it by the scrotum. Last night was the perfect example, the perfect showcase. Beautiful jazz butted heads with funky dance, pop and roll with bug-eyed free-form.

The resideNYC(TM) is a beautiful thing, the home-cured pastrami of live music. Sadly, Marco's has come to a close, just when I think I'm ready for another 5 nights. Who's got next?

1 comment:

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