by Bud Fulginiti
Ater a year-long absence, modern rock pianist Marco Benevento is returning to Philadelphia in force, to perform three shows in 36 hours. The run kicks off at World Cafe on Friday Dec 12, with a ‘Free At Noon’ show broadcast live from the stage, RSVP at xpn.org, or tune in at xpn.org or 88.5 FM. Benevento then hits Fishtown, to play at Johnny Brenda’s Friday and Saturday nights. When asked about coming to town, Benevento exclaims, “I FREAKIN LOVE PHILLY! We had so many great shows at The Blockley (RIP) over the last three years, I’m excited to come back around! The people in Philly fire me up.” Indeed, his appearances at The Blockley are the stuff of local legends- following two opening bands in February 2012, he jammed for 3 1/2 hours, the concert wrapped at 3:45 AM.
Benevento is touring in support of his new record Swift, which he released in September, after working out the material across the US throughout 2014. After writing instrumental music exclusively for many years, his previous release, Tigerface, included two songs with vocals by Kalmia Traver (Rumblebucket). On Swift, Benevento is singing his lyrics for the first time.
“I haven’t really sung much since high school. It’s a new instrument so I’m learning a lot right now. I’ve been on the road and singing a bunch over the last year. I feel comfortable singing, and haven’t run into any issues on the road. I feel like in this weird way when you sing you are slowly healing yourself, because your message and your vibrations are affecting both yourself and the audience and those sound waves, the vibrations, and your positivity can heal your soul.”
Another difference between Swift and everything that’s come before regards personnel. Benevento’s records typically include a wide array of musicians on various instruments, but Swift features only Dave Dreiwitz (Ween) on bass, and Andy Borger (Norah Jones, Ani DiFranco) on drums. “Dave and Andy are the tightest rhythm section in the biz, if you ask me. They play the songs and hold it down. We have a blast traveling and playing together. I feel like we are hitting a sweet spot. But of course that could change at any moment, you never know when our drummer might go back to smoking crystal meth.”
I’ve never seen him hit the pipe, but can attest to the “smoking” part- check out Borger’s work on Tom Waits’ masterpiece, Mule Variations. After spending 10 years in Ween, Dreiwitz has performed recently with The Gene Ween Band, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Bustle In Your Hedgerow, and The Complete Last Waltz. Both will accompany Benevento in Philadelphia.
The fourth star of the show is the piano itself. After years of performing on digital keyboard, or whatever piano or organ was at the venue, Benevento restored a 1920’s vintage 61 key upright Wurlitzer, originally designed to be played on railroad cars. It’s big enough to deliver a real, acoustic sound, yet small enough for roadies to load into a van and travel. He then “hot-rodded” it with guitar and piano pickups, and a chain of various distortion pedals, guitar effects, and amps. By pounding pedals and nudging knobs, and triggering beats and riffs on a looper, Benevento sculpts his sound into a “rock piano meets modern electronic experimental” performance that’s as entertaining to watch, as it is fascinating to hear.
Brooklyn-based duo Hank & Cupcakes bring their power pop to open Friday’s show at Johnny Brenda’s. And be sure to catch Philly’s own Out of the Beardspace opening Saturday- front man Kevin Savo has a unique voice and captivating stage presence, their sound might bring to mind King Crimson or Smashing Pumpkins.