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The Benevento Russo Duo free Jacksonville (3/7)

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    Consequence of Sound would like to welcome our newest writer Dave Moser…

    It was Friday, March 7th and I managed to scrounge up a little cash to make it from Tallahassee to Jacksonville to catch two of the acts that would soon be at Langerado: The Benevento/Russo Duo and their opening act Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, both whom I’d never seen.

    With missing Langerado on my mind, it was difficult to get excited for the show. Three hours before our intended arrival, I could barely keep my eyes open. I made the ill decision to stay clean for the night, something out of the norm for my usual concert appearances. Instead of drifting though crowds of hippies and stages of my favorite music with a head jam packed with substances and imaginary little gnomes pumping out happy moods and smiles; I was sober as a nun, with 10% of me wanting to go to the show while the other 90% just wanted to sleep and dream of being at the festival.

    Instead of jumping and screaming like a caged madman at a late night Umphrey’s show, or putting on my trance-pants at the Disco Biscuits, or getting my brain marinated in the special insanity-spiced jazz of Medeski/Scofield/Martin and Wood; I had to settle for two bands that I would usually end up passing over at other festivals.

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    After our safe arrival at the Freebird Live, I lugged my body indoors to catch the second half of Grace Potter, which by the end, I was regretting having missed the first. Instantly, I was attracted to the music. It was, well groovy. It was Rock; it was Blues; it was soulful and spiritual, and Grace Potter clearly earned her name in front of the bands. My girlfriend described her as a “Cocaine Rock Chick” and in a way that made sense; bearing no-bra under the grungy stripped top with the shoulder straps falling at her elbows: arching bangs that hung just above her eyebrows: A Flying-V guitar: and of course, the knee high brown high heeled boots. She definitely had the look to attract any single music lover, and believe me when I say that there were plenty of gentlemen and ladies, both young and old, whom were obsessively taking close up pictures of Grace alone .

    But Gracie is so much more than that. She may be a slender white girl, but Jesus, the girl’s got soul. She’s the type who would could easily have collaborated with old urban blues women, with the likes of Bessie Smith and Ma’ Rainy, and I bet she would be great teaming up with Ben Harper or the Blind Boys of Alabama. With out saying too much more other than what a great band this was, my two highlights from this show both came at the end.

    I forgot to mention that the Freebird, a usually moderately packed venue, was nearly empty. Where was everyone? Langerado perhaps, though it was the first day of Spring Break. But the twenty or so people there cheered as loud as they could for an Encore, and of course, they got one.

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    Gracie came out alone, gave her thanks and began to sing an old spiritual like song that could have been included in the Oh Brother. Where art thou? soundtrack. “Nothing But the Water” it was called, and she belted from the pit of her stomach while beautifully shaking her tambourine, “Take me DOWN, to the levy / Take me DOWN, to the stream / Take me DOWN to the Water, we’re goNNa wash our souls clean.”

    After a few chilling, spine licking, acapella verses, the rest of the band came on, and entered into the song perfectly; the kind that makes you pump your fist and say “Yeah” to yourself. The song continued great as the crowd danced and clapped like a gospel choir.  But yet, the best part of the show came at the drum solo, well at least that’s how it all started.

    What was once a scene similar to a Southern Gospel Baptist church on a Sunday morning, became a near twisted brutal rape show. This will probably be one of the only instances you will here of the term ‘rape’ being used in the best of sense. It started like most drum solos do; the one drummer playing solo. However, soon the rest of the band replaced their instruments with drum sticks, and Grace went backstage to gather Mark Benevento and Joe Russo, and they too picked up some sticks. Six people and twelve hard sticks, surrounding and tearing apart one innocent drum set. Sweet God Almighty. This is nearly sickening.

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    The three band members stood shoulder to shoulder in the back, viciously pounding the shit out of the snare and tom drums; while Grace and the Duo took the front, with Grace on her knees banging the bass drum, Joe on the cowbell and Mark on the cymbals. They even at times pounded the polished white sides of the drums, or the metal cymbal stands. Nothing of the poor drums was safe. It reminded me of the corn field sceen at the end of Casino. I was almost expecting them to leave the drums just barely intact and bury them onstage!

    The strobe lights flashed behind the anarchy of beats and bangs and crashes; sounds of ordered chaos, happening all at once-so loud the speakers nearly came tumbling off their stack. I gripped my head, I couldn’t stop smiling, and laughing and screaming “Holy Mexican Shit Stain” which I could only hear muffled in my head like I was underwater. I felt high and happy, like I would usually feel at a packed Umphrey’s show. Jesus, I need a beer. What was I thinking?  But it was too late, I still had to drive home. I could have had just one, but then I would have just wanted another. So it goes.

    I have seen many a drum solos in my life with music, but I have never seen a single drum set take such a beating. It was something the late Mr. Bonham (of Led Zeppelin) would appreciate, and most likely would challenge to a drum off; the six of them versus himself. I would have to argue that the latter would take the trophy back to his grave (RIP). I almost felt sympathetic for the roadies who would be tuning those drums back to perfect sound for the next days stop at Langerado.

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    The show ended and things were looking a little better than they were when I walked in. I just wish I could have had some beer. During the break, I hung around talking to my girlfriend and her friend as they took shots and chugged beer. Getting a little jealous I amused myself quietly by observing some of the obsessive fans standing at the stage trying to get drum sticks and guitar picks from the roadies. You would think these are dudes in their teens or twenties, but I assure you, most of these guys were forty plus with light balding heads and hairy wrinkled necks. Later I saw them convened in a group near the back, most likely discussing their mementos, and planning to return to their dark musky hideout, where they collect such items from young rock star girls and perversely please themselves while sniffing eroded plastic picks and splintered sticks.

    By the time I was able to get my twisted mind off those thoughts, I noticed the roadie had nearly completed setting up for the next band. He was your typical roadie; Heavy and thick with wild shaggy hair, construction boots with big socks, knee length black shorts with a wallet chain, black shirt and all of it soaked in sweat. It got to the point that so much sweat was dripping everywhere on the instruments, I nearly felt nervous for him working with so many wires. None the less, it was a success, and the Duo took the stage.

    If you don’t know the Duo, here’s the low down. The band consists of two strapping musicians; ergo ‘The Duo.’ You’ve got Mark Benevento who sits in a chair and is surrounded 300 degrees by various keys, pedals, effect boards, and so on. If Mark was a mad scientist, this set up would be his mad lab. Just looking at it made my head hurt on how intricate the design was for all of it. Next is Joe Russo on Drums. A unique set up, with two kick drums; one being an enormous one you would see someone in a Marching band carrying on their chest. Oddly enough, within a few minutes of their appearance I got more than one comment on how Joe and I look the same. At first I didn’t buy it, but I think in someway, we kinda do. He even wore a blue pin-stripped blazer like mine. The only difference mainly was his beard was more trimmed than mine and he wasn’t missing 30% of his hair.

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    Together the music is almost hard to define. It’s rock in a way, but jazzy, trippy, metal-ish, and even sometimes electronic as well. Though there is only two of them, this gives them an advantage most bands don’t; they are set up to face one another for effective communication. When you see them play, you can almost see the synced energy between them, which lets them shape and shift the music as they please. If you pay attention, you can usually tell by their facial communication when something good is about to happen, whether they instantly break it down, or go straight into another song.

    Most of the time, the keys don’t hardly sound like keys at all. The sound travels and is filtered through so many effects and circuits that by the time it makes it to the speakers, it’s sounds something like an inhuman-mutant hybrid  breed of sound; Which is definitely a good thing.  Given that there is no bassist, Mark makes up for it. One hand keeps the lead keys going as the   other keeps a groovy pulsating bass line that’ll melt your ribcage and shake your heart even more. Meanwhile, Joe carries a sick beat, swiftly destroying his neto kit like he just took a shot of 100% pure adrenaline.

    I have to admit though, and perhaps it was planned this way, but the first half of the set was readily steady and not holding my attention. They quickly went though a jaw full of 2-5 minute songs off their albums, getting a few claps here and there, and barely breaking a sweat. I was beginning to think the rest would be the same. My first Duo show would be less than expected.

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    But once Joe removed his sly blue blazer, things got a little spicier. Beginning with a lengthy medley of Led Zeppelin tunes, but done Duo Style, the few people in the crowd-now drunker-began to act a little wilder; jumping high, banging their heads, playing air guitar or waving their arms like they were on the drums. Once the excellent Zeppelin tribute was over and the crowd sounded a lot bigger, the band decided to throw in another cover to further whip up the few of us there.

    I heard a familiar bass line begin, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I got lost in my thoughts, a little frustrated about not knowing where I know the song from, and I guess it was noticeable that my mind was zoned out-staring down a bottle on the stage. A few seconds later I was startled by man with the face of a duck, and whiskey perspired sweat dripping off his nose still lightly dusted with cocaine. He grabbed my shoulders, shook me like a doll and screamed, “Fucking Radiohead man!!!”

    Yes. That was it. Thank you . Myxomatosis, how did I forget? Now I can enjoy the song.

    This madman rolled away, ‘whoo hooing,’ into the sporadic crowed and danced like a coked up Chris Farley. I laughed and fell back against the brick pillar, tapped my feet and let my sober-self get sucked into the vortex of this twenty plus minutes rendition that even Radiohead themselves would be ass over water about. During the whirlwind of it all, there were moments of psychedelic trances, ear drum destryoing hard rock, two (count ‘em two) intense drum solos, and even some soft trippy jazz drops. This was what I was hoping for. This is what I liked. I was not longer, at all, in any loathsome mood; other than desperately wanting a sweet beer.

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    If I was under the influence, I would have been out in the front, smiling and laughing like I didn’t care, rocking my body hard, screaming like a jumbo jet and giving high fives to random strangers. Though it is great doing such things, they do slightly take my attention away from everything else on stage and the music. During these times, I really only feel the music as I dance, which is good none the less,  but I don’t really get to listen  to it. In the on going conflict of staying sober, I was glad to have stood back and focused all my attention on the music and performance; watching Joe closely at every move he made on his drums, contemplating if I could one day be that good; trying to download his moves and unique beats to practice on my own when I get home. This was nice; I was the only sober person around, but having just as good of a time.

    I’m not sure whether my experience that night would have been better had I been drinking, smoking, or what-have-you, but I walked out of the venue completely satisfied.

    Both bands impressed me. Now I know why I had gotten so many negative remarks from friends when I had mentioned that I had never seen the Duo. For just two people, they can put on a show better than some experimental groups with a hundred and one different instruments and members. It’s like soul food; simple and few ingredients, used very well. I now look forward to the day when I get to see either band again, and when I can report on it from a, well, completely different perspective.

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