Marco Benevento, Tonic, NYC 11/15
No fewer than a dozen microphones and what must be miles of cables on the stage; a Baldwin, Wurlitzer, B-3, too many pedals to count and those four TV monitors with the white line down the center- Marco Beneventos brain writ large on the stage of Tonic for a solo show. He pounds into a hazy, distorted cover of Fearless on electric piano, his back to an audience of, say 50. Benevento reaches his right hand over to the Baldwin for the bridge, but quickly returns to the comfort of the distortion. And he keeps his back turned as he sets in on a second number, a weird Jim Morrison effect.
But when he turns his attention to the piano, hes totally mesmerizing- so measured and passionate at the same time. Hes got a drum track going, vaguely Caribbean, as he emotes his way through Welcome Red. Joes gonna kill me for that, he says afterward but the beautiful resonance is more than we should be given, more than we should be asked to take. With Monks Bye-Ya, hes in full dance on 88 keys, bending and tweaking the rhythm and tempo as you might expect, and you remember just how accomplished a trad jazzy Marco could be if he had followed that path, instead of selling tee shirts reading Shootin Up At The Office in faded, crooked letters. He swings, absolutely swings, through the finale.
He plays with a Leonard Cohen tune and then invites Scott Metzger up for a Combustible Edison cover- creepy gypsy circus music. But then hes bustling back and forth across the stage, hopping over low mic stands to flip switches and set up loops and dissonance, Metzger doing his part like a good citizen. Theyre in the middle of the early, and then abandoned, Duo tune Abduction Pose, a personal favorite. (Incidentally, check out the fantastic version on Jay Rodriguezs Live at Fez from Kufala Records, with Joe and Marco as the band.) Benevento finally settles at the piano, though he is repeatedly sneaking back to one console or another to add feedback or set down a raw, East coast drum track. Its thick and heavy and hits a long moment when the sound just fills the room, a tragically buzzy molasses with Scott glowing in the middle.
The night ended with an indie rock cover I would have recognized were I hipper than I am- probably Radiohead- and awkward thank yous. And a solo show certainly can be an awkward affair. Experience shows its a fifty/fifty shot at best. But halfway through his Tonic residency, Marco showed himself to be both a real professional and a truly creative improviser by playing a masterful gig