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Published: 2003/09/13
by Dan Alford

Duo, Harper’s Ferry, Allston, MA- 9/11

It's fair to say that there is no small band right now that is hotter than the Duo, Marco Benevento and Joe Russo. While the New York coupling may find its strongest fan base accumulating in the main space of the Knitting Factory, the word has spread across the country, fueled partly by a nationwide network of wired groove fiends, partly by tours down South and in Colorado, and certainly by festival appearances. The buzz coming back from the Adirondack Music Festival at the very start of the summer was almost entirely about the organ and drums; the High Sierra performances won similar accolades in the mid summer days; and more cheers for the Duo resounded at Berkfest, which marks the beginning of the end of the sunny days in the North East. And the fact is, the plaudits are well won; the Duo is an intense musical experience that does not disappoint. So learned the fair-sized Boston crowd on Thursday night.

While the set list did not offer much variation from other shows, including a number of covers (Radiohead's Paranoid Android, Zeppelin's What Is and What Should Never Be and Four Sticks), and a number of originals (Darts, Mephisto, Abduction Pose), many of the songs were longer versions that covered new territory. The opening Abduction Pose had a lengthy intro, with Joe using brushes and shakers, while Marco teased effects from the keys by reaching inside the instrument. As the song materialized, it dipped into the thematic groove, and shot off into a number of lurching, spasmodic segments that reflected the pair's physical movements. Returning to the theme again and again, Marco and Joe drew the audience in, so that by the end the crowd was pressed against the stage and listening intently.

A mid-set Darts, which was loaded with fills and full solos from Joe, was another highlight. Joe's drumming is jaw-dropping in its fervor. He swings with big NOLA style beats, but quickly drops to brushes, or Latin-influenced bells; he smashes cymbals, or grabs shakers and tambourines. He is a whirlwind of texture, churning out huge sounds tempered with precision and intent. His body is tense at the kit, bouncing constantly, as if the sounds inside cannot escape quickly enough.

Geoff Scott (Miracle Orchestra) sat in for Mephisto, a very sly strut that works well with a guitar, (check out Brad Barr's contributions on 7/4/03) and in fact the audience was populated with a number of musicians including Topaz and Tewar (Topaz), and John Lecesse (Assembly of Dust, Percy Hill), among others, all gathered to watch the on-stage pyrotechnics. A double dose of Zeppelin followed, What Is > Four Sticks, both tunes stretched well beyond their borders, even in terms of the Duo's treatment. During Four Sticks, Joe dropped out, leaving Marco alone to maintain the bass with his left hand, and work smooth moods over the surface- fantastic!

The Duo is nothing short of their reputation, and nothing less than amazing. To listen to them is to hear musical interaction of the highest order, but to see them is to watch friends fiercely at play. Don't miss the opportunity.

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