Benevento Russo Duo with Mike Gordon, State Theatre, Falls Church, VA- 12/27
Mike Gordon was standing nonchalantly by the Coat Check area when I walked into Falls Church’s State Theatre. I left my coat in my car, as I’d usually rather shiver for a few minutes over bothering with a Coat Check. Of course, I didn’t let lack of necessity stop me from swinging Gordon’s way to shake his hand and tell him how excited I was for the upcoming show, before heading on my way. He seems appreciative of being able to meet and greet, since, by the end, Phish was forced into more of a hide from the masses approach, out of necessity.
I witnessed the Duo Gordon collaboration during their allotted Jammys slot earlier in 2005, in NYC. Having two complete sets of the trio was a great way to end my 2005 live music experience and this show garners my top spot for 2005. I saw some great ones, but these guys slipped in on the final week and toppled the rest.
Marco Benevento plays better and more natural sounding bass lines (sounding like a string bass) on a keyboard than most keyboard players can manage. When it’s just him and Joe Russo on drums, the dual roles Benevento serves are necessary. Throwing Gordon’s bass into the mix both allows Benevento to concentrate on other aspects of his playing and agitates the entire musical process, as this isn’t a full time and oft-practiced project. This agitation serves as a catalyst for improvisation and forces the trio to reach beyond regimented and practiced comfort zones. Gordon also brings a few songs to The Duo’s instrumental-based track selection. Gordon does most of the singing, while Benevento and Russo have microphones to add harmonics when called for.
Set one included The Duo’s “Becky,” a version of Aaron Copland’s “Hoe Down” and “Welcome Red” (a song Benevento dedicated to Gordon), followed by a dedication to Phish in the form of “Theme From the Bottom” > a jam including some “Foam” > “Theme From the Bottom.” A tangential “White Freightliner Blues” and a Gordon-driven “Beltless Buckler” ended the set.
Basically, two lengthy jam sections comprised the improv-packed and tease-heavy second set. The musical conversation seemed even more comfortable and smooth flowing up on stage than during the first half. A “Lengthwise” jam encountered more “Foam.” The night’s high notes came from a thoughtful and crowd-loved “YEM” > “Mikes Song” > DEVO’s rocking “Freedom of Choice,” with Matt Durant (keyboards for Rana and Sam Champion, the night’s opening band) guesting on vocals > “Mikes Song.” The encore was a true surprise, as Durant returned to rap, reading the lyrics to Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By.” While I could’ve gone with another half-hour, or so, of Trio improvisation over the hip-hop, I’m a Pharcyde fan, so it worked out.
Finally, Benevento spoke to the crowd, saying, “the best show we’ve ever done.” I have no trouble believing his sentiment. But, when are we going to make this three-man arrangement officially a working band? I have much love for The Benevento Russo Duo and will continue to catch them whenever I can (Jam in the Dam looms in March). The Trio is a name that rolls so sweetly off the tongue, it can’t be denied. Seeing as how Gordon just happens to be without a steady band, it seems only naturaldoesn’t it?