I walked into the Doug Fir with very low expectations. I figured it would be at least an interesting show, but I’d only seen him play once before, with Joe Russo, in Harrisburg, PA and it was a really good night. He was playing a keyboard…well, playing might be a bit of an understatement. He was pounding away on the synthesizer/keys all night that evening as Russo was going crazy on the drums. Both guys were drinking pretty heavily and it was an extremely loose, weird, and high-energy show that lasted until the bar closed down. It was a great live show, but I figured not the sort of thing that would translate well onto a studio album. But I made a mental note to catch them again sometime.
Fast forward many years and I haven’t seen them play together again. I’ve seen Russo play with Furthur, but somehow always seemed to miss Benevento when he came through town. So when I heard he was playing the Doug Fir on a Tuesday night in Portland, I decided to attend. I searched his website and the venue’s website for details on an opening band and who else was in Marco’s band. While I never could get details on the openers, I discovered that the headliners would consist of Benevento on keyboard, Reed Mathis on bass, and Andrew Barr on drums. Now my interest was very much piqued as each of these guys is a monster in their own right.
I first saw Reed Mathis play with the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey years ago. I’ve seen him many times through the years at Fred shows, at festivals like High Sierra, and with his current main band, Tea Leaf Green. I’ve always loved his playing. He plays inventively, attentively, and creatively. I’ve seen him lay down incredibly technical jazz bass lines, slam it down with heavy rock-n-roll, and experiment heavily (I remember one night in Portland when he was using a toy ray gun as a slide/pick and the sound of the toy also could be heard through his bass pick ups). The same goes for Andrew Barr of The Slip. I’ve seen him around in various forms for years and years since I was in college in New England back in the early 90s. He is a staple of the scene for a reason – because he’s a damn good drummer. When I learned about this line-up, I was very excited for the show since it would basically showcase a Lil Jazzy Jamband Supergroup!
Marco played a full piano, but it was lined with effects pedals and there was both a laptop and a little keyboard that sat on top of it. He played mostly traditional piano, but added effects with the pedals and laptop here and there and switched over to the keyboard to add a more synthesized sound now and then. The music was great and different than what I had expected having seen him only play with Russo once before. Many tunes were slower and very beautiful with cascading piano raining down over the bass and drums. Usually, they worked themselves up into more animated jams by the end of each tune, too. The room was pretty full, but no where near sold out which made it very conducive to dancing. And the tunes were extremely danceable. It was hard not to dance when Reed really got into his playing as he was bouncing around with a huge smile plastered on his face as his red, shaggy hair hung down over his eyes and nose. Barr was rock solid on the drums and these guys played piece after piece of highly groovy, inventive, piano-based music.
The highlight of the show for me was near the end of the evening when they played Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” into Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets” and then thundered back into “Fearless.” It was a crazy instrumental mash-up that I would have thought would never work had I only heard about it. But the band nailed it and the segues were flawless. The crowd definitely recognized and appreciated these two cover tunes to finish off the evening as much as I did. As I was getting one last glass of water back by the bar before heading out, I bumped into Matt Butler of the Everyone Orchestra and chatted for a bit about his upcoming New Year’s gig in Seattle and show also coming up in Portland. I could only guess that he came down to see this little supergroup to try and do some recruiting for an Everyone Orchestra show. And who could blame him? Those guys were great!