When you’re in a performance space the size of Red Square, it usually means “back to basics.” And as far as the viewing portion of the equation goes, that’s true: It’s pretty much “Stand up, or go home.” (Two friends of mine beat that system, but I went the standard route, and I’ve got an ice-pack on my back to prove it.) But any club with the art Red Square displays and the microbrews Red Square serves isn’t that simple, in the same way that saying “Marco Beneveneto plays piano” isn’t that simple.
Saugerties’ most recent transplant plays a 1927 Wurlitzer stand-up piano, which travels with him everywhere he performs; that meant hauling it here from Portsmouth, NH, where Beneveneto is finishing a residency – and where, Beneveneto admitted with some chagrin, “We left all the merch!” The word “portable” does not come to mind when you see this instrument, and loading it in and out of venues must be an absolute bitch. But Beneveneto has played “Pimp My Piano” with this thing, and I’m not referring to the fake lion’s head that’s attached to one side. A laptop and an electronic keyboard live on the top of the piano, and the shelf above the keyboard has so many effects buttons, you’d think Nels Cline had switched instruments. Combine this with the piano’s exposed workings – which allowed Beneveneto to mute chords with one hand while he played with the other – and this sucker is the musical version of Frankenstein. And that’s appropriate, given what a freaking monster Beneveneto’s trio is.
There’s no way to pigeon-hole Beneveneto’s music. It’s jazz, but it’s SO not! It’s rock, but it’s SO not! Whatever it is, a piano trio – even an electric trio with a bionic piano – should not be able to generate the raw, unadulterated power that filled Red Square and bewitched the crowd of Gen-Y-ers thronging the front of the stage. The vibe hits you in your head, shoots down to your toes, leaps right into your soul… and you’ve got no choice but to dance and bob and smile and wonder where all Beneveneto’s ideas come from. Maybe it’s all on the laptop, but we wouldn’t have known because Beneveneto angled the screen so only he could see it. That’s cool, though. Nobody wants to know how the sausages are made; they just want the juicy, spicy, sizzling goodness after it comes off the grill.
“This is TASTY,” Beneveneto declared, a wolfish grin on his face. “Maybe my next residency can be in Albany!” As much as we were getting from him, it seemed we were giving him just as much. He certainly had a connection with bassist Dave Dreiwitz and drummer Andy Bolger, who kept his engine revving all night long. They didn’t get any solos, but neither did Beneveneto per se. Like his Royal Potato Family labelmates Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Beneveneto’s music tells its stories through one single line of dialogue, so the standard melody-solo-solo-optional drum solo-melody matrix goes right into the shredder. Beneveneto’s own playing style is about chords and power, much in the same way the White Stripes are about chords and power. It’s that visceral, it’s that fun, and we got two sets of fire-breathing nastiness that made you want to pound the wall in time to the beat… which is what I did, and I need to get some ice on this hand.
Pungee used to play Red Square’s Tuesday night open-mic nights back in 2004, which meant they were probably pretty sleep-deprived when they walked into their high school the next day. But who needs book-learning, right? The quartet’s musical education stood them in good stead as they cranked out a dancing jazz/funk hybrid that went right for your mojo and never let go. Jeff Nania’s sax work was more Maceo Parker than John Coltrane, but that’s in no way a bad thing, given Parker’s virtuosity with jazz and R&B, and Nania burned it up on tenor and alto; guitarist Eric Blander tore off sheets of hard-edged licks when he wasn’t flying formation with Nania; and Adam Karion’s 5-string bass literally made the floor shake as he laid the foundation with drummer Brandon Isles. Pungee gave Coltrane’s “Naimia” a modern spin that had everybody smiling, including the band, and they had plenty of people dancing to their roaring original “All Uppity.” They were a great tone-setter for the night, and I hope I get to see them on many more nights.
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk