Last night, New York’s vibrant musical community known as the “Freaks” descended on Brooklyn Bowl for the seventeenth annual “Freaks Ball”. “Freaks Ball” is a gathering that typically centers around the Freaks and their favorite local musicians that the vibrant New York City music community has to offer. In years past, local artists like Warren Haynes, Robert Randolph, Eric Krasno have taken the reins of Freaks Ball to create amazing improvisational music, with acts like Anders Osborne, The New Mastersounds, American Babies, and more playing the event over the course of seventeen years.
However, the undisputed king of Freaks Ball is Sir Joe Russo. Last night’s edition marked Russo’s fourteenth appearance at Freaks Ball, and he has made a habit out of surprising the audience with unique and special performances. Freaks Ball 2012 saw a rare appearance by Russo and his all-instrumental Led Zeppelin cover band, Bustle In Your Hedgerow, while the 2013 event marked the first ever performance by Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Almost Dead, of course, turned into the wildly successful touring juggernaut that we know and love today, and they returned to Brooklyn Bowl for Freaks Ball for the next few years, turning the party into a three-night run in 2016.
One of the constants through many of Russo’s performances at Freaks Ball has been his partner-in-crime, keyboardist and organ master Marco Benevento, who marked his eighth appearance at Freaks Ball last night. With both Benevento and Russo names so synonymous with Freaks Ball, it made perfect sense for the musicians to bring their beloved project, theh Benevento/Russo Duo, to The Bowl for this year’s event.
Affectionately referred to as, simply, “The Duo”, the group reunited late last year for the first time since 2010 with a tiny “secret” show at Three’s Brewing in Brooklyn, NY, and then played their first proper show in seven years on Jam Cruise. When the band was announced for this year’s Freaks Ball, their first real show on American soil in seven years, and their first appearance ever at their de facto home venue Brooklyn Bowl, tickets to the show sold out in 30 seconds. Anticipation for the night was massive, and, after a killer opening set from Wolf! featuring Almost Dead bandmate Scott Metzger (marking his fifteenth Freaks Ball!), The Duo took the stage and blew the excited crowd away with their mix of experimental jazz and indie rock.
The band kicked things off with “Best Reason To Buy The Sun,” before things kicked into second gear with a gorgeous “Sunny’s Song.” It appeared as if Russo had eight arms on this one, nailing the complicated and energetic drum part with precision, all while Benevento created the song’s blissful melody. The song twisted and turned as The Duo worked a healthy amount of improvisation into the song. For fans who had waited seven (or more) years to see The Duo, “Sunny’s Song” provided everything they could’ve asked for.
“9×9” was a continuation of the surreal vibes, and the crowd listened attentively as the band worked through the delicate track. Benevento truly shined on this song, providing both the melody and the bass line, showcasing an excellent focus and control that very few musicians could duplicate. The smile on Benevento’s face was infectious, and he could be spotted watching Russo with awe and appreciation all night long. Following a take on Play Pause Stop track “Soba”, Russo whipped out his guitar to create a melodic loop for the song “Powder,” the song’s first performance since 2006.
After takes on “Walking, Running, Viking” and “Welcome Red”, the energy in the room shot up once again, as the familiar drum loop of “Becky” began. “Becky” is perhaps The Duo’s most recognizable song, and the crowd at The Bowl went wild for the fan-favorite, which featured a tease of “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago. The Duo then started up “Scratchitti,” which served as the evening’s energetic peak. Both musicians flexed their improv muscles early and often during this raucous track, which eventually transitioned into “Something For Rockets” after a pronounced tease of “Tom Sawyer” by Rush.
The Benevento/Russo Duo closed out the show with “Hate Frame” and the sample-heavy “My Pet Goat”, which closes out their classic album The Best Reason To Buy The Sun. The band left the stage to uproarious applause, returning to encore with “Play, Pause, Stop,” giving the audience one more opportunity to watch these masterful artists create the beautiful music that launched their careers.
The Benevento/Russo Duo have no announced plans for any future shows, but after last night’s magical set at Freaks Ball, one can only hope that the band has plans for a few more performances. No project this prolific, this exciting, and this original should be on the shelf for that long.
Listen to a full audio recording of the show, courtesy of taper Matt Moricle.
See below for a few videos of the performance from Instagram, a full gallery from Andrew Scott Blackstein Photography, and the setlist from Peter Costello.
The Benevento / Russo Duo | Freaks Ball XVII | Brooklyn Bowl | Brooklyn, NY | 2/25/2017
Best Reason To Buy The Sun, Sunny’s Song, 9X9, Soba, Powder @, Walking, Running, Viking, Welcome Red, Becky #, Scratchitti $ > Something For Rockets, Hate Frame, My Pet Goat
Encore: Play, Pause, Stop
@ – First Time Played since Fall 2006, Joe on Guitar
#- With a “25 or 6 to 4” (Chicago) Tease (MB)
$ – With a “Tom Sawyer” (Rush) Tease (MB)
[Setlist courtesy of Peter Costello]
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