As the weather breaks and nicer temperatures start to become the norm, the residents of Buffalo begin to come out of their winter slumber and explore the city again. This past Friday night, Marco Benevento was in town and, with mother nature’s cooperation, Buffalo’s music community came out in droves and ascended upon Nietzsche’s for a night of great music. As 10pm came and went, the venue began filling up with all walks of life to catch the jazz experimentalist himself. Benevento has played Buffalo pretty consistently as of late and it seems as though the scene here is not only appreciative of his visits, but the crowd continues to grow every time he comes back.
The night started off with local favorites, Lazlo Hollyfeld. With a beer in hand, it was actually difficult to try to maneuver to the front of the venue as it was that densely packed for Lazlo. The group, in my eyes, was a perfect fit to open the night as their instrumental experimentation goes hand in hand with the type of crowd Benevento brings out. With over ten years under their belts, Lazlo knew exactly how to draw a crowd in and keep them entranced with their choice of songs for the set. Without any effort, your ears immediately gravitated towards Matt Felski who has the unique role of Vibraphonist in the band. For those unfamiliar, the instrument is similar to a xylophone and, as you can imagine, stuck out like a sore thumb. That might sound like a slight, but the way Felski utilized staccato and legato couldn’t have been more perfect. I can’t say I’ve ever heard this instrument outside of jazz, let alone in a small band, but these guys made it work and have a truly unique sound because of it. While I would’ve enjoyed seeing some more of them that night, their set was stellar and got the crowd in the perfect mindset for what was to come. Their jamming was dark and exploratory, having almost a heavy metal feel in terms of both tempo and tone. Guitarist Sonny Baker was the visual focal piece for the band as his energy swelled with peaks in the music and forced him to frantically pluck away in certain segments and attack his solos with a fierce tenacity. As they wrapped up their set, the crowd let out an exuberant cheer, letting the band know of their appreciation and enjoyment.
Marco Benevento took the stage around midnight, which was appropriate for Buffalo as the city is known for its late nights and 4am last call. Midnight is when things start to get interesting here and that would hold true on this night as well. Benevento started off the night sprinting out of the gate and showing everyone right away why he’s so talented. On one song, he held the strings inside of his piano, creating a similar effect to a muted guitar and adding a layer of texture to his deep overall tone. As he stated in our interview, he doesn’t go on stage with a setlist in mind; he completely plays to the crowd and feels out what they’re hoping to hear from him. Friday night was no different. Benevento was locked in from the get-go as every change in tempo and every blistering solo only electrified the crowd even more. A few songs in, he turned and looked out across the crowd, grinning, to let both the band and audience know he was having a good time.
As we got deeper into the set, you began to question how much his weathered piano could take. Even though it looked like it could’ve been lying around in the back of Nietzsche’s, the tone that was culled from its depths was beautiful. It was definitely an odd juxtaposition of visual ugliness, yet tonal beauty. The use of effect pedals with his historic rig only make his sound that much more unique. His tone and approach is literally out of this world. If you closed your eyes, it was almost as if you were strolling through Dalí’s “The Persistence of Memory” and he was playing the soundtrack.
While only a year has passed since I last saw these guys, they have grown tighter as an overall entity. Dave Dreiwitz (bass) and Andy Borger (drums) have learned how to compliment what Benevento does and now play much larger roles within the group. When they would collectively stop, it felt as though the pressure had finally let up. The three were so good at keeping an incessant pace that you felt the need to gasp for air on the short break in between songs.
Benevento himself is a madman behind the keys. You could see it in his face at various points throughout the show that he was really trying to push his musical boundaries. In and of itself, you can respect him for that, but he balances that seriousness with a jovial side that enjoys the dynamic between the band and crowd. As a clear example of his playful side, a large wolf mask somehow made its was to the stage and Marco was the first to embrace it, playing through the second half of a song while it was on his head. It was difficult to discern whether the whole thing was planned, but Marco’s eagerness and energized playing said otherwise.
The show went on until about 2am with Marco covering songs off of every album, including some new tunes off of his upcoming Fall release. It was an incredible night of music to say the least. As the crowd filed out, I overheard what I presumed to be a new fan talking about how they couldn’t wait for the next time he’s in town. Not surprised, I now understand why Marco is always smiling.