REVIEW: Marco Benevento Trio @ Yoshi’s, Oakland 5/24/12

Last night, Bay Area residents were given a plethora of can’t go wrong musical options: Star Slinger was turning the knobs at Slim’s, I Break Horses was drenching The Rickshaw Stop in reverb, and the almighty Tenacious D made all the ladies cream supreme and rocked the socks off a sold out crowd at The Fox. But despite all of this awesomeness, our choice was clear: Justin, myself and the rest of our friends would be doing a pre-High Sierra warm up of sorts with Marco Benevento at the Oakland edition of Yoshi’s.

As Justin mentioned in his post from a few days ago, our crew is always super excited for any configuration featuring Marco, but I was especially amped for this occasion. This wasn’t just any Marco trio show, but a special one-off treat for the Bay Area featuring Matt Chamberlain on drums and Reed Mathis on bass. I don’t know the last time this trio played together live, but my guess is 3-4 years and last night they sounded as if they were 30 shows deep into a months-long tour. (Matt appears on most of the tracks from Marco’s first two solo albums, as well as the recent “Escape Horse” track with Mr. Michael Gordon).

If you aren’t familiar with drummer extraordinaire Matt Chamberlain, it’s probably because he hasn’t been on the live circuit much. He is one of the most requested session drummers in the business and has recorded with and appeared on albums from a veritable who’s who in rock and pop: Bowie, Morrisey, Shakira, Kanye, Fiona Apple, and The Boss just to name a few. The guy was even in Pearl Jam for a hot minute. Needless to say, he should be on everyone’s musical bucket list, and I am just grateful I got to see him playing with one of my favorite musicians on the scene.

The first set started a bit after 8pm, and I could tell from the start that we were in for a treat. There was no rust to shake off; they just let it all hang out from note 1, stretching each song even further than I’ve heard Marco go in the past. Reed was using the pedal I’ve seen him utilize recently with 7 Walkers and others (but never before with Marco) which made his bass scream electric guitar tones, while Matt was doing some of the most precise drumming I’d ever seen. The rhythm section was absolutely locked in, which allowed Marco to run wild all over his keyboard. Solo after solo, Marco was really stretching some of these songs further than I’d ever heard him take them before, and just when it seemed like the whole tune was going to fall apart, he reeled it right back into the main theme, while the crowd hollered their approval every single time.

Yoshi’s is one of the original sushi & jazz clubs, and even when it’s at its 330 person capacity the shows there feel extremely intimate. This led to a more-chatty-than-usual Marco who was bantering back and forth with the crowd on several occasions. When he wasn’t making inside jokes about jazz leprechauns haunting his hotel room, he was cracking the crowd up with his musings on Thursdays (“today…is still happening”), the dangers of throwing circuit bent toys into the crowd (“really, you didn’t see a battery powered toy coming towards you…really?”), the one celebration balloon all by it’s lonesome self on the ceiling or finally how his new single has sold literally dozens of copies (or as he put it, “a million”) since it hit iTunes. This loose vibe translated over to the music as well, as each member of the trio toyed with the structures within each song, yet they always managed to make the sounds gel. One vivid example would be Matt Chamberlain’s start-stop drumming in the first set closer, which led to the most unique version of “The Real Morning Party” I’d ever heard — and for you Marco fans out there, you know that’s saying something.

In addition to the originals and an instrumental rendition of “This Is How It Goes,” Marco’s first song ever to feature vocals and lyrics, the crowd was treated to many of Marco’s signature covers: The Knife’s “Heartbeats”, My Morning Jacket’s “Golden”, Led Zeppelins “Friends, and even Sleigh Bell’s “Infinity Guitars,” which has recently been working its way into Marco’s sets, and got the third slot in the show.

Here are two short clips I captured towards the end of the second set, by which time a perma-grin had been plastered onto my face:

All in all, it was one of the better Marco sets these eyes have seen, right up there with the post-Phish show at the Highline Ballroom on 12/29, the euphoric Jam Cruise atrium solo sets, and the mindbending 2010 show at the Independent with Reed and Andrew Barr. Grateful for the exposure and introduction to Matt Chamberlain, everyone went home happy, and pumped by the revelation that we’d all be reunited again at High Sierra, just a short six weeks away.