He was probably just a little drunk and clowning, but when Marco Benevento put on a pair of oversized sunglasses partway through his set, it was impossible not to think he was somehow channeling Elton John—albeit a very shaggy one. “Thank you for coming to the piano rock concert,” he said near the end, conscious by now of the niche he fills (and dominates) in the music world.
Benevento isn’t a balladeer (although he’s started to sing a bit), nor is he an improviser hell-bent on the stratosphere (a place he’s taken his chops with other ensembles). Four records deep into a solo career that followed his debut with the Benevento/Russo Duo, Benevento is something of a rugged minimalist, composing absurdly simple pop instrumentals that he can hammer and mold afresh every night onstage. With a stripped-back trio of Ween bassist Dave Dreiwitz and drummer Andy Bolger, the configuration is a little more punk-rock than jazz-combo, Benevento pausing his set to take photos with members of the crowd and passing a giant tiger mascot head around the stage during a single from his new record TigerFace.
Said single, “Limbs of a Pine,” is one of the finest party anthems he’s yet crafted, triggering Rubblebucket vocalist Kalmia Traver’s lead with a sampler and rocking the melodic hook on one pitch-modulated piano key. The formula echoes that of “The Real Morning Party,” another synth ditty from 2008’s Invisible Baby that has, by now, become a staple of his set. These easy vamps, in many instances, lent themselves to some of the night’s most surprising moments. Suddenly a fragment of the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” would appear and then disappear just as easily, but then the band would find themselves in Britney Spears “Toxic.” A rendition of the Knife’s “Heartbeats” was one of the set’s highlights. The whole thing came to a close with a surprise cover of Dr. John’s “Such a Night,” drawn from a Last Waltz tribute concert the band just did in San Francisco.
There were plenty of Benevento originals mixed in as well, including the excellent “Record Book” and “Eagle Rock,” which Benevento announced had been picked up as the theme song for a NYC radio show. This isn’t the first time Benevento’s placed a song on the radio, as selections from the Benevento/Russo Duo still crop up from time to time between NPR segments.
Between sips on a Makers Mark, Benevento announced that, after some Internet speculation, an Albany residency for his trio would be forthcoming. All it took was a couple people offering to buy him rounds of his famously favorite libation, proving that good music can still come cheap so long as the bar is well-stocked.