Marco Benevento Leaves Them Smiling at Music Hall of Williamsburg

April 18th, 2016

Marco Benevento – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 16, 2016

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It’s kinda fun to trace the path that took Marco Benevento from the avant-garde basement of the old Knitting Factory in Tribeca to the point where he was standing atop his piano at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night, towering over the crowd in a black-and-white-and-Dayglo-striped suit, top hat and pink sunglasses like a live-action Dr. Teeth. But it’s a lot more fun to just fully enjoy the moment. And there were plenty of them to be had when the Benevento’s infectious, happy-go-lucky energy—and his backing duo—turned the Brooklyn crowd on its head and everyone just surrendered to the fun.

Of course, you don’t begin an evening by hopping up on your instrument, that’s something you have to build toward. The set opened with “Dropkick,” off the recently released The Story of Fred Short, Benevento singing through the verses before opening into concentric circles of piano jams. Right off, his bandmates—Andrew Borger on drums and Karina Rykman pinch-hitting on bass (regular bassist Dave Dreiwitz playing with Ween across the river)—established themselves as guardians of the groove for the evening. While the crowd was quick to join the party and dance, no one was enjoying themselves as much as the three musicians onstage.  The highlight mid-section of the show was a performance of the entire B-side of the new album, which is a sort of concept record. Played live, the music was an explosive prog-rock disco, each piece finding a deeper and more open-ended funk. Rykman was a revelation, often leading the charge with splatter-paint fuzz bass accented by head slamming, body gyrations and a Cheshire Cat grin. Benevento was equally as animated, both on and off the piano, finding his way into the crowd during “I Can’t See the Light” to dance and pose for pictures.

The second half of the set was heavy on instrumentals from Benevento’s growing catalog, each song showing off Benevento’s skills at composition and improvisation. Sing-along, earworm melodies opened up into penetrating jams, his piano augmented by synth and samples, the music swerving between grooves and deep rocking, Borger and Rykman providing equal parts push and pull. And yes, there was dancing and strutting and piano hopping, and even a couple of unironic “Take it to the bridge” mentions in there as well. For the encore, Benevento brought out opener Mikaela Davis on harp to accompany a nice version of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which began as just a pensive duet, but when the band returned, with an additional guest—Katie Jacoby on violin—the mood quickly shifted back to giddy party and the follow-up quintet version of the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” was a perfect we’re-gonna-make-your-cheeks-hurt-from-smiling finish to the night. —A. Stein | @Neddyo