Marco and Mikaela Mystify Montage Music Hall

IMG_5499aAn evening of acts defying easy categorization at the Montage Music Hall on May 12 began with Rochester-born Mikaela Davis and her harp-led melodies. Her band, whittled to a trio from its usual quartet format, consisted of Alex Coté on drums and Shane McCarthy on bass. The lack of guitar pushed the harp to an even more prominent position in the music, and “Other Lover,” off a special tour sampler CD, was a slow groover with a nifty mid-song breakdown. Coté shined early and often, taking control both in backing and leading positions. The magnificently exotic (particularly to the Montage stage) harp was adorned not only with spiraling LED lights, but with many effects pedals as well, pushing its sound into strange and different spaces.

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After the set closed with, “In My Groove,” a brand new song, ironically about needing to write a new song, the opening band found itself in the unusual position of being called back for an encore. They hesitantly took the stage, and with nothing prepared, they winged a cover of Gillan Welch’s “Caleb Meyer” — nice choice, nice execution and impressive all around.

Davis mentioned that in the trio format she felt they were resembling Marco’s band, with the bass, drums and said that there was pretty much a harp sitting inside the piano. It certainly rings true with the unique approaches they take to their instruments.

Davis wasn’t the only one playing with a modified band. Karina Rykman was filling in on bass for Dave Dreiwitz in Marco Benevento’s band. She matched Dave’s signature smile and bass stylings perfectly, while filling out striped pants that complemented Marco’s candyman-meets-madman outfit better than Dave ever could. Andy Borger maintained his spot behind the kit, as he has for a handful of years.

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When Marco introduced the band, he also introduced the audience to his piano, Gibbs. It fittingly shares a name with the street just around the corner from the venue, where the famous Eastman School of Music resides. The piano was a $100 purchase off of CraigsList, which to put it mildly, has been slightly modified to Benevento’s tastes.

Touring behind his freshest release, The Story of Fred Short, the band kicked right into the new material with a set-opening take on the infectiously catchy “Dropkick.” Moving back in time they continued with “If I Get To See You At All” off Swift and then”Atari” from Invisible Baby.

It was right back to the present with the full presentation of the side B conceptual Fred Short suite of songs. This was pulled off brilliantly with special sound and lighting effects and the works. The “Stay in Line” section was particularly fiery. Borger and Rykman took charge and pounded it into submission.

But “The Real Morning Party” had only just begun, with ripping versions of a by-request “RISD,” “The Knife’s “Heartbeats” and “Limbs of A Pine” that featured a quick return into “Dropkick.” The 90-minute set finished up with the whole crowd singing along to “At the Show.”

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The show came full circle during the encore as Mikaela Davis re-emerged. The modified harp and the modified piano played side-by-side for rollicking takes on David Bowie’s “Heroes” and the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”

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