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Marco Benevento, The Haunt, Ithaca, NY – 11/30

Photo by Brian Stollery

Experiencing a Marco Benevento show might not be what you’d expect from listening to the experimental piano rocker/composer’s work. When he took the small stage at Ithaca’s The Haunt with drummer Andy Borger (Tom Waits and Norah Jones) and bassist Dave Dreiwitz (Ween), none could have predicted a night replete with unfettered dancing, incredibly dynamic jamming, and a tireless two-hour-long set that had the venue’s owner looking just about ready to shut the party down.

The show’s ambiance was relaxed at first, kicking off with “Eagle Rock” and then “Fireworks,” both off of Benevento’s latest album, TigerFace. The pianist’s talent was unmistakeable from the get go as he closed his eyes and allowed his fingers to glide blithely over the keys, never missing a note. The pace began to pick up a little with “Greenpoint,” a request shouted out by an audience member, and “The Real Morning Party,” with long, improvised sections that kept the crowd marveling at the musicians’ abilities.

About halfway through the show, the band broke into a powerful cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats” that kicked the entire performance up some three or four notches. It was impossible to resist dancing along to Dreiwitz’s seductive bass line. After that, the set comprised several covers —Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” and Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” to name a few—that were each rendered original and captivating through Benevento’s piano treatment.

Energy levels climbed higher and higher, peaking with the final song of the night, “Limbs of a Pine.” Benevento showcased his more electronically-inclined side, deftly fidgeting with the various knobs and buttons on the laptop and synthesizers resting atop his piano. As the song got underway, he pulled out and donned a giant tiger head, rising from his piano bench to dance. The tiger head made its way around the stage, with each band member taking his turn to wear it and transforming, for a few moments, into unbridled rock stars—Dreiwitz wildly shredding on his bass and Borger smashing on his drums.

It was a fittingly explosive ending to a show that started out good and only got better. The warm and welcoming mood that lasted throughout the performance—a product of the trio’s comfortable chemistry and Benevento’s own silly and easygoing demeanor—made for a night of pure, carefree fun. With Benevento at the helm, the show went from flawlessly executed and inventive piano jam session to boisterous dance party, leaving the crowd entirely impressed and completely worn out.

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