Sullivan Hall, 31 January 2008
Where to begin, where to begin? Good question. The better question is whether there's anything left to say after this, this and this. Is it even possible? Once I use every superlative in the book, is it possible that all those "-est"'s could be topped? And what kind of words would I use to describe the experience? Is it possible that after 4 nights of sweet, sweet loving, I am actually carrying Marco Benevento's child somewhere inside my body? I actually think I may be, my soul has been impregnated by the music because there is something living inside me that wasn't before. And if that's possible than it's certainly possible that Marco found a way to surpass what seemed insurmountable just a few weeks ago.
The setting once again was Sullivan Hall, The Village NYC. The date was Thursday, January 31st. 5 Thursdays in January this year, the extra one being a throwaway, a prelude to February, but not for Marco. This was the CD release party for "Invisible Baby" and for the occasion it wasn't just a bunch of (awesome) musicians thrown together, it was a band. Three guys who have played together. Played this material together. Well. Quite well. Marco Benevento on piano, etc., Andrew Barr on drums and Reid Mathis on bass guitar. I saw them together back here and it was truly remarkable. But nothing prepared me for Thursday night...
The first set started and immediately the shift from previous nights was seismic. The band was tight. Really fucking tight. Marco was in a really good mood and everyone inside could feel there was something going on from the get-go. They went through three quick originals: Bus Ride, Record Book, The Real Morning Party... and when I say "quick" I mean they delved in and made sweet sweet love to them. The surprise from the start was Barr who was just in the zone on the drums. He paced the entire show from the first note, there was no doubt. Once again, Marco had succeeded in laying so low into the sound that you weren't sure if this was Andrew Barr & Friends or even Mathis & Friends; and by doing so he rose above and presided over everything like a true master of ceremonies. And what a ceremony it was! Marco was particularly amped for "Party" and handed out maracas and cowbells and drumsticks like Santa Claus of the groove. The result was sloppy and giddy and a perfect prelude to what lay in store.
The jamming was top notch throughout the first set with some true segues between many songs. Segues of the "one note from the first song being replaced with one note of the second song one by one by one" variety with each third of the trio locked into where the music was coming from and where it was going. It was beautiful to behold. To tell you the truth it was almost too much and too good... one man with just two ears and one brain was not enough to absorb, digest and form coherent thoughts about what was going on. One yellow brick road would bring me into a field of poppies where I would zone out in some opiated lull and then I would get snapped to attention by some bass sludge from Mathis and follow another path to a resplendent Emerald City of bright, shiny melody. But I couldn't grasp it all at once. Thankfully this was recorded.
Andrew Barr. Andrew Barr. Barr Barr Barr. Did I say it enough? Wow! Maybe it was the Jameson talking, but the words "best performance I've seen by a drummer in a long time" were being bandied about without a tinge of irony -- and this is after Joe Russo did the dirty nasty on my soul a couple weeks ago. It's funny to think about the Stanton Moore/Marc Friedman -as-friends night a few weeks ago. That was damn good, those are damn good musicians. I have nothing but good things to say about it. But watching shit go down on the final night, it was clear that those guys were stand-ins for the real thing. Actors on a stage playing "Andrew Barr" and "Reid Mathis" trying their best to fool the crowd and wondering quite sincerely what their "motivation" was, but never quite nailing it. Mathis/Barr/Benevento... Benvento/Mathis/Barr... write it in any order you want, the music tells the truth. Anyway, after watching all three members of the Slip blow my mind over the course of the month of January, each in their own special way, I have decided that I am a much bigger fan of that band than I've ever given myself credit for.
There were some cool covers in there as well, the Deerhoof song, "Twin Killer" which I am not familiar with, was a perfect change of pace and well-played all around. My Morning Jacket's "Golden" was beautiful stuff. What a great cover. I had visions during that one of the next iteration of "Bustle In Your Hedgerow" which could be a band built around Joe & Marco to play all MMJ tunes. I guess Metzger and Dreiwitz could join in. (calling dibs on this idea, you heard it here first). Would you pay to see that? Yeah, so would I. Also ironic thinking back to the drive to Philly to see My Morning Jacket w/ the Slip and the Duo opening up... Golden was like that entire voyage wrapped up in a single moment. Very cool.
At the set break, Marco announced that they'd made a little video for The Real Morning Party which was cute and catchy and a perfect visual manifestation of my favorite of the new Marco tunes (I believe it made my best songs of 2007 and it hadn't even been released yet, to give you an idea). While watching the video, I joked about how I would listen to it 5 times in a row and at that magic number it would never leave your head. That was a bit of an omen... Anyway, as a set break of the review, check it out here...
Second set. Now here is where it gets tricky as a speaker of the English language. I mean if I say "holy shit!" which I am wont to do, it gives you an idea, but does it capture it? Everything in that first set was A-level. A+ even. Cat's meow. Bee's knees. But it was just a set-up for the second set. When it ended and I wiped the sweat and snot off my face the first words I heard were "best set of the residency." Then a dazed look from a high-on-the-music Marco Benvento: "did you like that?" Guh...
I don't know what words to use to describe the second set. It was omnipresent and omnipotent. It was a epic novel, a brilliant oil painting, and an orchestral masterpiece all rolled into one. Songs were played, a setlist could easily be derived, but that would be mistaking the objects for the art contained within. Mistaking the words themselves for the language being spoken. And what a language it was. Songs begat improvisation which begat new songs that were never songs before which transformed into new songs starting the cycle all over again. The segues from the first set reappeared as something all the more amazing in the second stanza. The way red bleeds into orange into yellow in the rainbow -- that's the way these songs flowed together. The space in between the melodies were as good as anything that's been played all month at Sullivan Hall and the songs themselves -- "best ever" versions every one. All that and you could dance to it. Dance we did.
They started with "Fearless" and it was like BAM! Right there in front of us. I thought I'd seen all that Marco could do to that number and then, once again, I was wrong... just fucking brilliant. That magic that Andrew Barr was spinning from behind the drum kit in the first set had caught like some flesh eating bacteria and devoured the other two guys whole. Now all three of them were making flippy floppy with the groove in equally sick-ass fashion. It all kind of unraveled from there in the best kind of way.
Through it all, they all kept their cool. Marco's playing on the piano was as good as I've seen from him. His hands had minds of their own... mind's that wanted to tear the shit out of those keys. He was in control even when he wasn't. Midway through the set he asked if anyone had just gotten there. I don't think anyone even replied -- mostly out of sheer speechlessness, but still. It was all a ruse, he was going to play it anyway, and we got out (technically) 3rd version of "Real Morning Party." The video synched up on cue with some of the visuals from the video and we were off. No percussive handouts this time, just straight eyes-glazed-over funkin'-it-out. Good and greasy.
Somehow this made it's way into the Carly Simon James Bond "Nobody Does It Better" at which point Brad Barr (who opened quite admirably with his own solo set Thursday night but who can't squeeze in more than a parenthetical in this review, sorry) came out with guitar in hand. Now I can do nothing but babble incoherently. This was multiplication by addition, infinity plus one: damn fucking good music. The final stretch included the Carly Simon and a Mephisto and a She's Not There, but really it was just !>!!>!!!. Throw in a couple *'s and maybe a $#@% for good measure. Each was better than the previous, each was jammed out in a multiplicity of styles (raging rock, rolling reggae, jazzed up juiciness and all that other glorious goo that Marco peddles so fine) each went just far enough to elicit drooling from the Thursday night crowd and then pulled back into something new. If you must know, there was yet another appearance (4th?) by the Real Morning Party in the middle of Mephisto which was sort of a straight-jazz piano reading and the brilliant meta-move of the night. All these tunes did things I didn't know were possible, I felt like a 6 year old walking in on his parents having sex. There was something illicit about the music being made and undeniably fascinating.
Brad Barr was the perfect guy to hop up on stage and was well-prepared with his doo-dads and his pedals and more than one guitar. Most importantly, he was not shy. Just ripped his clothes off and hopped into bed, joining the orgy and showing the pros a few moves they might not have thought to try. Obviously an electric guitar adds a bit of an edge to the music and the other three played counterpoint to this beautifully. The chemistry that Brad shares with his brother plus the amazing music that Brad & Marco had made a couple weeks back all came into play and ensured that when three became four that things got better. Much much better. There was no awkwardness, no period of feeling each other out, it was as if the moment had been scripted from the moment the whole notion of Marco-at-Sullivan-Hall-on-Thursdays-in-January had been hatched. Somehow Mathis became the lost soul in the evening and yet his playing was also brilliant to a low-and-rumbling note. Every once in a while he'd show a flash, a third down back picking up 6 yards when he needed 4 and we'd be "Oh yeah, all that and the bass player ain't too shabby either." The best part of all of that is that unlike the other nights when I'm standing there thinking "this should be a band!" -- this is a band. They've played together several times and will have dates on their docket. I don't know how things could possibly get better, but they probably will. I recommend duct tape around the windows, things could get scary.
By the time they started the set-closing "She's Not There" the house was no longer taking bets. It was well into Friday morning, the crowd (which had hovered a little over half-capacity all night, somewhat surprisingly) was reduced to a tight arch of the indoctrinated five deep from one side of the stage, wrapped around to the other corner. The last whiskey had been guzzled and there was no telling where these four guys would take us. The answer was "everywhere." Egads! If I use "sick" to describe things that are sick, the second set on Thursday was downright epidemic -- full blown sickness of mass proportions, infecting everything in sight within earshot, airborne pathogens of brain-melting sickness.
So, how have I done with a show that left me speechless; that words could do no justice to; that the English language seemed inadequate for? Yes, I agree, terrible. How about you talk to nyctaper and just listen to the damn thing.
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05 February 2008
Sullivan Hall, 31 January 2008