Watch Mike Gordon, Marco Benevento, & Joe Russo Play "YEM" In 2005 September 20, 2017 22:40
Joe Russo's Almost Dead: An Experience Like No Other March 16, 2017 10:39
Words by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
After having a few days to rest, travel, and recover, it only seems right to sit down and reflect on the unforgettable experience I had this past weekend. Joe Russo's Almost Dead played its first ever show at Brooklyn Bowl on January 26th, 2013 for what was thought to be a one-time-only special occasion. The show was born as a result of "The Freaks List," an NYC-based email list which would throw an annual event at Brooklyn Bowl. For the 2013 event, The Freaks requested that Joe Russo, Marco Benevento, Dave Dreiwitz, and Scott Metzger switch things up from their regular existing Led Zeppelin tribute (Bustle In Your Hedgegrow) and instead perform the music of the Grateful Dead. Russo would then recruit renowned guitarist Tom Hamilton to complete the five-piece lineup.
Once this month's JRAD Brooklyn Bowl residency was announced, I decided that there was no excuse not to travel to New York for the first weekend. After attending LOCKN' Festival last August and catching my first two JRAD sets, seeing them again has been a top priority. Thursday night marked the band's 100th show, and walking into that venue for the first time is a feeling that I'll never forget. I'm going to do my best to run through each night's setlist and provide some select video footage, but as many already know, these guys throw in more teases, reprises, and flat out curve balls than anyone you'll find.
Those familiar with "Beat It On Down The Line" know those first five beats that kick off the song. In honor of the band's 100th show, BIODTL opened up the show with 100 beats before busting into the Dead classic. The set continued with fiery takes on "Bertha," Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried" and "Help On The Way" > "Slipknot." While the Dead would normally segue into "Franklin's Tower," JRAD is no ordinary Dead tribute. An extended "Throwing Stones" jam had me convinced that was where we were headed, until "New Minglewood Blues" busted into full effect. The always beautiful "Ramble On Rose" would follow, providing a nice sing-a-long, which is always good for the soul. The first set ultimately closed with the band's first ever live original, "Keeping It Simple." If you can find a band of this magnitude that debuts its first original at its 100th show, I would love to hear about it.
Watch JRAD perform its first ever live original "Keeping It Simple" here:
The second set kicked off with one of my all time favorites, "The Music Never Stopped." This was just one of the many times that guitarist Scott Metzger truly shined. While each band member had countless moments throughout the weekend, it blows my mind how well Metzger emulates Bobby (Weir). From the style of play to overall demeanor/vocals, he has truly mastered his role in the band. A lengthy jam on Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone From The Sun" and "Music Never Stopped Reprise" provided for some truly wild improvisation, and just when I was thinking we were headed for a "Wharf Rat," Hamilton led a perfect transition into "Row Jimmy," which ultimately flowed into "Crazy Fingers." Metzger shined yet again throughout "Estimated Prophet," and the "Jack Straw" > "Morning Dew" which closed out the show was simply perfect. It never ceases to amaze me how thorough the Dead's catalog is. That, coupled with JRAD's creative spin, makes every night feel like a "greatest hits" set.
Those who have attended multi-night runs with one of their favorite bands know the level of excitement upon arriving at the venue each night. Walking back into Brooklyn Bowl for night two was exciting, to say the least, and there was much anticipation for what was to come. Hamilton led the band through a rocking "Don't Ease Me In" to open things up, before a cover of "Man Smart (Woman Smarter)" had us all dancing and singing along. I couldn't help but feel like this was an appropriate nod to International Woman's Day, but who knows. A lengthy jam ultimately led into "China Cat Sunflower," and while the Dead would normally move straight into "I Know You Rider," JRAD went with "Feel Like A Stranger." After a brief moment to regroup, the band fired into "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo," which had an especially sentimental aspect for me. Something about the lines, "Hello baby, I'm gone, goodbye. Farewell to you old southern skies, I'm on my way" really hits home. While JRAD doesn't follow all of the Dead's traditional pairings, a perfect take on "Lost Sailor" > "Saint Of Circumstance" closed out the first set in epic fashion. The lengthy "Terrapin" jam during "Saint of Circumstance" left even more anticipation for set two.
Watch a clip from "Saint of Circumstance" here:
The rocking vibe picked right back up as "Greatest Story Ever Told" started off the second set, and what seemed to be a transition into "Black Throated Wind" eventually led into the band's first cover of Led Zeppelin's "Moby Dick" since April of 2015. This one flowed beautifully into a "Music Never Stopped Reprise," which was yet another JRAD debut. Hamilton slowed the pace a bit as he led the way through "Candyman," before all five band members chimed in for a flawless, upbeat take on "Uncle John's Band." The debuts continued with a "Stella Blue" jam, and the "He's Gone" that followed threw me for a major loop as they teased the theme song from the Netflix hit series "Stranger Things." You could hear "The Wheel" coming from a mile away, and it certainly didn't disappoint. After a lengthy tease of "St. Stephen," the band worked through the always soothing "So Many Roads," just before "Sugar Magnolia/Sunshine Daydream" just about lit the place on fire and closed out the set. The encore started in classic Dead form with "Ripple," which was followed by the first "U.S. Blues" since JRAD's first show in January of 2013. You can imagine the crowd reaction when those opening notes hit.
Watch a clip from "Sunshine Daydream" here:
While the idea of a three-night run was once intimidating, it's damn near impossible to pass up the opportunity these days. While there are a million other things one could get into while visiting New York City, my friends and I had unfinished business at the Bowl. This was no easy ticket to find either. The lowest price on the secondary market was right at $200 including fees, and you just knew that it was a special night. This set started off with more serious exploration before dropping into a "Cassidy" > "Let It Grow Jam" > "Born Cross Eyed Jam." It's moments like this where this band truly transcends the "tribute" aspect. These extended teases, jams, whatever you want to call them...they will keep any Dead fan engaged and paying attention to every note. The anticipation built throughout this level of improvisation is what separates this band from just about any other, for me personally.
Before we get too off track, "Tennessee Jed" was up next, and Tom Hamilton and Marco Benevento had a hell of a lot of fun with it. Benevento's lengthy solo even contained a nice rendition of "chop sticks" that had the entire room laughing. Metzger then busted out "Chuckles," an original from the WOLF! catalog, which made for yet another JRAD debut. Finding a way to work in The Champs' "Tequila" is never a bad idea, and why not work it back into a "Chuckles Reprise"? Next, came a great cover of Johnny Cash's "Big River," and the "Box of Rain" that followed couldn't have been placed any more perfectly. One of Jerry Garcia's finest, "Althea," was played to perfection, and the "Throwing Stones" that I was waiting for all weekend closed the set with a bang, to say the least. No matter where you stand in the political spectrum, this one is as powerful as ever considering our current climate.
Watch JRAD perform "Throwing Stones" here:
The weekend's final set started off smokin' hot with "Deal" > "Good Lovin'," and it's absolutely worth noting that "Good Lovin'" contained a lengthy jam on Olivia Newton-John & John Travlota's "Summer Nights" from the 1978 hit film Grease. A "Good Lovin' Reprise" then transitioned to Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" (another JRAD debut). "Cumberland Blues" made for some great late night foot stomping and even featured another "Slipknot" tease, before Hamilton absolutely ripped into "Terrapin Station." Midway through this masterpiece came a jam on "The Other One," and the remaining layers of the "Terrapin Suite" were as much as we could have asked for. Fingers were crossed for a "One More Saturday Night" encore, and while nearly nothing is predictable about this band, I couldn't have been more pleased to get that one right.
Those who made it this far through this article have most likely experienced JRAD in some shape or fashion. Having grown up listening to the Grateful Dead, and taking a special interest in the Benevento/Russo Duo in high school, this band had my attention with its inception nearly four years ago. Ever since catching the late night sets at LOCKN' 2016, I haven't been able to stop listening to these guys. They absolutely stole that weekend for me personally, and that takes nothing away from the performances from Phish, My Morning Jacket, Phil & Friends, and others. Last weekend at Brooklyn Bowl only reaffirmed that Joe Russo's Almost Dead is one of the most electrifying, creative bands of our time. They take the music of the Dead, add their own creative touch, and legitimately take things to another level. This experience with this band in its home venue was one that I'll never forget. And if you're still reading, keep a close eye on those future tour dates and make JRAD a top priority.
Watch JRAD perform "Good Lovin'" here:
Setlists via Joe Russo's Almost Dead Official Facebook Page
Setlist: Joe Russo's Almost Dead - Brooklyn Bowl - 03.09.17
Set One: BIODTL @, Bertha #, Mama Tried -> Help On The Way -> Slipknot! -> Throwin’ Stones Jam $ -> New Minglewood Blues %, Ramble On Rose, Keeping It Simple ^
Set Two: Music Never Stopped & -> Third Stone From The Sun Jam * -> Music Never Stopped Reprise + > Row Jimmy @@ -> Crazy Fingers -> Estimated Prophet -> Jack Straw -> Morning Dew
@ – 100 Beat – Beat It On Down The Line
# – With a “Shortnin’ Bread” (James Whitcomb Riley) tease (MB)
$ – First Time Played By Almost Dead
% – With Throwin’ Stones Teases / Jams (Band)
^ – Almost Dead Original, Written by JR & TH, First Time Played
& – With an “Ode to Billy Joe” (Bobbie Gentry) Tease (SM)
* – Jimi Hendrix original, First Time Played By Almost Dead
+ – Not played by Almost Dead since Suwannee Hulaween, 10.29.15, a gap of 49 shows
@@ – Proceeded by a significant Wharf Rat Tease / Jam – may become a separate track based on length. Also with a Throwin’ Stones Tease
Setlist: Joe Russo's Almost Dead - Brooklyn Bowl - 03.10.17
Set One: Don't Ease Me In, Women Are Smarter -> China Cat Sunflower -> Feel Like A Stranger @, Mississippi Half Step -> Lost Sailor -> Saint Of Circumstance #
Set Two: Greatest Story Ever Told $ -> Moby Dick % -> Music Never Stopped Reprise Reprise ^ -> Greatest Story Ever Told Reprise &, Candyman -> Uncle Johns Band -> Stella Blue Jam * -> He’s Gone + -> The Wheel @@ -> St. Stephen Jam -> So Many Roads ##, Sugar Magnolia/Sunshine Daydream
Encore: Ripple $$ (TH) > US Blues %%
- @ – With an “Apache” (Jerry Lordan) Tease (MB)
- # – With a Terrapin Jam (may become a separate track), Ruben & Cherise Teases (TH) & an “Eleanor Rigby” (The Beatles) Tease (TH)
- $ – With a Black Throated Wind Jam (may become a separate track)
- % – Unfinished (no drum solo). Led Zeppelin Cover, not played since 2015-04-22 First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN, a gap of 79 shows
- ^ – First Time Played by Almost Dead, included lyrics
- & – Not played since 2015-02-17 State Theater, Portland, ME, a gap of 84 shows
- * – First Time Played by Almost Dead, included a short He’s Gone Jam
- + – With a “Stranger Things” (Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein from the band Survive) tease (MB). Yes, the Netflix series Stranger Things.
- @@ – With “The Simpsons Theme” (Danny Elfman) teases (SM & DD) & Terrapin Teases (TH & MB)
- $$ – Not played since 2015-12-31 The Fillmore, Philadelphia, PA, a gap of 42 shows
- %% – Not played since 2013-01-26 Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY, a gap of 100 shows. Dave broke a string on the Alembic & played his Gibson SG
Setlist: Joe Russo's Almost Dead - Brooklyn Bowl - 03.11.17
Set One: Jam @ -> Cassidy # -> Let It Grow Jam ->
Born Cross Eyed Jam $ -> Tennessee Jed % -> Jam %% -> Chuckles ^ -> Tequila & -> Chuckles Reprise ^ -> Big River > Box Of Rain, Althea (TH) * > Throwing Stones (SM)
Set Two: Deal > Good Lovin + -> Summer Nights Jam @@ -> Good Lovin’ Reprise -> Heartbreaker Jam ## -> Cumberland Blues $$ -> Terrapin Station -> The Other One Jam -> Terrapin Suite ^^
Encore: One More Saturday Night (SM)
@ – With a China>Rider Transition Jam Tease (TH)
# – Unfinished
$ – With “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (Bob Dylan) Teases (Band)
% – With a Spoonful Tease (SM) & a lengthy Marco Solo that included “Chopsticks” that could become its own track
%% – With “Big River” teases
^ – WOLF!! Original, First Time Played By Almost Dead
& – The Champs Original, First Time Played By Almost Dead
* – With a “So What” (Miles Davis) Tease (SM) & a full band “All of my Love” (Led Zeppelin) Jam that could become its own track
+ – With a back & forth between Marco & Scott that teased numerous jazz standards including “St. Thomas” (Sonny Rollins) & “Four” (Miles Davis)
@@ – Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta / Grease Soundtrack Original, (AKA Summer Lovin’ – written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey). First Time Played By Almost Dead
## – Led Zeppelin Original, First Time Played By Almost Dead
$$ – With a “Heartbreaker” (Led Zeppelin) Tease (DD) & a Slipknot! Jam (Band)
Joe Russo's Almost Dead Offers HD Webcasts Of Brooklyn Bowl Residency March 09, 2017 09:55
Photo by Keith Griner: Phierce Photo
Just under four years ago, Joe Russo's Almost Dead made its debut at the famed Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn, New York. This weekend, the band begins the first of two three-night runs, with tonight's show marking the 100th show for the Grateful Dead-inspired super group. The usual lineup for Joe Russo’s Almost Dead features drummer Joe Russo, guitarists Scott Metzger and Tom Hamilton, keyboardist Marco Benevento and bassist Dave Dreiwitz. This usual lineup will perform this first weekend's shows (March 9 – 11), while next weekend Dead & Company bassist Oteil Burbridge will sub for Dreiwitz, when Almost Dead returns to Brooklyn Bowl March 16 – 18.
Fortunately for Dead Head nation, JRAD has partnered with nugs.tv to offer full HD webcasts for all six performances. For all of the specific details and various packages, make sure to head over to the nugs.tv official website. If you're not yet familiar with JRAD, make sure to check out their scorching take on "Scarlet Begonias" > "Fire On The Mountain" from Brooklyn Bowl on October 5th, 2015 below. We strongly recommend watching all the way through, in order to catch the absolutely outrageous solo from Benevento.
Watch JRAD perform "Scarlet Begonias" > "Fire On The Mountain" here:
Joe Russo's Almost Dead Shares Official Recording From Nashville Debut March 02, 2017 15:57
Photo by Keith Griner: Phierce Photo
Joe Russo's Almost Dead recently made a rare appearance in the southeast, with shows at The Music Farm in Charleston, SC and the famed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN in mid-January. Fortunately for Deadhead nation, the band has released an official recording of the Nashville show on January 12th. This performance features many of the "greatest hits" from The Dead's catalog, as well as guest appearances from vocalist Nicole Atkins on "The Music Never Stopped," "Dancing In The Streets," "The Stranger (Two Souls)," and "Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad." See below to stream the show and view the complete setlist, and head over to JRAD's official website and Facebook page for all of the band's latest updates.
Joe Russo's Almost Dead is Scott Metzger, Tommy Hamilton, Dave Dreiwitz, Marco Benevento & Joe Russo.
Setlist: Joe Russo's Almost Dead - Ryman Auditorium - 01.12.17
Set One: Truckin’ (SM) -> Tennessee Jed @ (TH) -> The Music Never Stopped (SM & NA)> Dancing In The Streets (SM & NA) -> Brown Eyed Women (TH)
Set Two: Help On The Way (TH) -> Slipknot! $ -> Throwing Stones % (SM) -> Dark Star Jam ^ -> Throwing Stones Reprise (SM), The Stranger (Two Souls) (NA) > Let It Grow & (SM) -> He’s Gone (All) > Terrapin Station* (TH)
Encore: Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad (All with NA) -> We Bid You Goodnight (Instrumental ending)
- @ – With unknown tease MB
- # – With a “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” (Michael Jackson) Jam (Band)
- $ – TH broke a string
- % – With a Dancin Tease (TH)
- ^ – With a GDTRFB Tease (TH)
- & – With a “Norwegian Wood” (The Beatles) Tease (SM) & a “Kashmir” Jam (SM & Band)
- * – With Ruben & Cherise Teases (MB then Band) an “Eleanor Rigby” (The Beatles) Jam (TH & Band)
Watch Bob Weir's Acoustic Performance With Joe Russo's Almost Dead November 17, 2016 00:35
Joe Russo's Almost Dead has been sweeping the nation by storm and just finished up a two-night California run last weekend. The band made stops in San Diego at House of Blues on Friday night and The Fox Theater in Oakland on Saturday night. The Oakland show has been a particularly hot topic, as the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir stopped by and joined the band a during the acoustic segment of the highly praised super-group's set. JRAD, which is comprised of Joe Russo (drums), Marco Benevento (keys), Tom Hamilton (lead guitar), Dave Dreiwitz (bass), and Scott Metzger (rhythm guitar) are known for keeping an upbeat tempo and playing much of the Dead catalog perhaps just one step faster, before launching the jam into "outer space."
Seeing the band in the more recently introduced, stripped down, acoustic setting with Weir was more than a treat for those in attendance. Weir ultimately surfaced after the opening tune ("It Must Have Been The Roses"), and remained on stage for "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, "Black Throated Wind," "When I Paint My Masterpiece," and "Cassidy." Fortunately, front-row footage of the entire acoustic set has surfaced via TimeZonerTV. Watch in full and check out the complete setlist from the Oakland show below.
Set 1 (8:00PM – 10:13PM)
Good Lovin’ (SM) ->
Cumberland Blues (All) ->
Help On The Way (TH) @ ->
Music Never Stopped (SM)
He’s Gone (TH) >
The Wheel # (All) >
Jackstraw $ (SM & TH)
Acoustic Set ^ (No Set Break)
Must Have Been The Roses % (TH)
Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall + (BW)
Black Throated Wind + (BW)
When I Paint My Masterpiece + (BW)
Cassidy + (BW) ->
Let It Grow Jam + ->
Cassidy + (BW)
Set 2 (10:33PM – 11:59PM)
King Solomon’s Marbles
Row Jimmy (TH)
Estimated Prophet (SM) ->
Uncle John’s Band (All)
Eyes Of The World && (TH) ->
Throwing Stones (SM) ->
Deal Jam & ->
Throwing Stones (SM) ->
Hey Bulldog Jam ^ ->
Throwing Stones (SM)
E: One More Saturday Night (SM)
@ – Proceeded by an emphatic “Shakedown Street” Tease
# – With an “Head Over Heels” (Tears for Fears) Tease (MB)
$ – During the jam before the final “We can share the women…” lyrics, the stage was transformed seamlessly for the acoustic set. MB’s piano was moved (while he was still playing it), a small kit for Joe rolled out on a riser, mics & stools were placed for SM, TH & BW.
^ – All songs with MB on Upright Piano & Vocals, TH & SM on Acoustic Guitars & Vocals, DD on Upright Bass & JR on 3 piece kit – Kick, Snare & Hi Hat – & Vocals.
% – Almost Dead only
+ – With Bob Weir on Acoustic Guitar & Vocals as indicated
&& – With a DD Bass Solo & an MB piano solo
* – Contained elements of Throwing Stones
& – First Time Played By Almost Dead
^ – Beatles cover, first Time Played By Almost Dead as an instrumental. (The full song was played on 2016.07.02.)
This was probably the longest show Almost Dead has played, at about 3:39.
:: Setlist via Joe Russo’s Almost Dead ::
Watch Joe Russo's Almost Dead's LOCKN' Sets In Full HD September 22, 2016 15:15
Photos by Keith Griner: Phierce Photography
While it's been nearly four weeks since the conclusion of LOCKN' Festival, certain memories continue to resonate with each day. Atop that list of memories is the double dose of Joe Russo's Almost Dead on Thursday and Friday night at the Blue Ridge Bowl. Thursday night's set followed action packed sets from Umphrey's McGee and Ween, while Friday night's set followed Ween and two full sets from Phish. We haven't been able to stop listening to these two sets since LOCKN', and thankfully, video footage from both sets have surfaced on YouTube.
See below for a footage of the entire Thursday 8/25 set, as well as various segments from the Friday 8/26 set. A direct link is provided to watch the entire Friday 8/26 set in Full HD. For all of the latest information on Joe Russo's Almost Dead, head over to the band's Facebook page and official website.
Joe Russo's Almost Dead - Setlist: Thursday 8/25
Space > Truckin'. St. Stephen >The Eleven. Brown-Eyed Women > The Wheel > Estimated Prophet, Tennessee Jed, Viola Lee Blues > He's Gone > Terrapin Suite
Joe Russo's Almost Dead - Setlist: Friday 8/26
Good Lovin' > Shakedown Street > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Dancing in the Street > The Music Never Stopped > Turn On Your Love Light > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower > Slipknot! > Throwing Stones
Watch JRAD's entire set from Thursday 8/25 at LOCKN' here:
Watch JRAD perform "Hes Gone" > "Terrapin Suite" on Thursday 8/25 at LOCKN' here:
Watch JRAD soundcheck "Reuben & Cherise" on Friday 8/26 at LOCKN' here:
Watch JRAD perform "Good Lovin" on Friday 8/26 at LOCKN' here:
Watch JRAD perform "Shakedown Street" on Friday 8/26 at LOCKN' here:
Watch JRAD perform "Dancin' In The Streets" on Friday 8/26 at LOCKN' here:
Throwback: An Interview with Marco Benevento July 22, 2016 15:44
Photo by Michael Jurick Photography
In the fall of 2014, we had the chance to speak with pianist/songwriter Marco Benevento, who had just released his fifth studio album, Swift. This would serve as one of our very first interviews, just after the official launch of Live & Listen. Marco elaborated on the new release, the Benevento Russo Duo days, touring with Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon of Phish, and his constantly evolving musical style. In honor of Marco's 39th birthday, we decided to take a look back on this conversation.
Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
You’ve been deeply engrained in the live music scene for well over a decade now. At what age did you begin playing, and when did you realize that this could be a career path?
Marco: I started playing when I was a kid. I started taking the classic piano lessons with my brother at school when I was seven or eight years old. Then I got into reading music. My dad got me a synthesizer and we had a piano in the house. I always played music. I was into sports too: soccer and tennis. I was also really into skateboarding. But I was always into music. I started learning to play some rock and roll as a teenager. Probably around age 15, I started playing in bands, playing sweet 16 parties. I feel like a lot of kids were doing it; playing battle of the bands, random parties in high school. We would practice, party, and experiment in peoples’ basements for hours. It was a classic way of growing up and learning great music.
When I decided to go to Berklee College of Music, I guess you could say that’s when I started to get serious about it. After college, I moved to New York and started playing gigs and teaching lessons. The New York hustle was quite a realization. It’s kind of a constant realization; that playing music my lifestyle. I still realize it now. You can’t really back out of it. You’re in love with it. You’re somewhat in need of it. It helps your creativity and your mind. I don’t know what my life would be like now if I wasn’t making music. You can’t just switch jobs at this point.
Who have been your biggest musical influences over the years? Is there anyone in particular who you’ve modeled your style of play after?
Marco: There’s no one person in particular, but when I was at Berklee studying jazz heavily, I had a chance to study with Brad Mehldau, my favorite pianist at that point. He was still an up and coming modern jazz player. I would go and see him play at The Village Vanguard. He had only recorded 2 records in at that point, and now he has probably 20. I was really into his style of playing and his jazz approach. Lately my whole mindset has really evolved from jazz to what I’m doing now, which is more rock and roll with elements of jazz. I really love David Bowie, Neil Young, LCD Soundsystem, Wilco, My Morning Jacket. I like the more modern rock bands these days. I’ll always love the classic stuff – Little Richard, Paul McCartney. Mehldau was a real inspiration in the jazz world and a soloist, pushing the limits with technique.
I’m really in love with the song writing process, which goes more with the rock vibe that I am doing now. Fifteen years ago I was more of a student of jazz. You realize you’re not a student anymore but more of an artist. Someone who needs to create and sell tickets to shows. You want to represent what you really like and really shine on stage. I really enjoy people interacting and dancing at our shows, and there is a lot more of that now.
Benevento Russo Duo (2008)
The Benevento Russo Duo was officially born in 2001, but you and Joe (Russo) met years before. How did The Duo come to life and how much experience did you guys have playing together?
Marco: We came to life as a necessity in New York City doing the hustle, playing as many gigs as we could. We played $50 gigs here and there. Sometimes we would get lucky and get $100. Joe had a friend that booked for The Knitting Factory. His friend offered him a residency spot, every Thursday night, and it paid $100. Instead of paying 4 guys and making $25 each, he just had me come down with my organ, and we would make $50 each. Back in January of 2002, in our mid 20’s, that was basically grocery money for the week, so I said “Hell yeah! Lets do this.” That’s really how it started. I brought my Hammond organ down two flights of stairs every Thursday. Eric Krasno (Soulive, Lettuce) would occasionally come and sit in. Word got out. Tapers would start coming to record the shows. We did that residency for almost a full year. I think that same year we did a show at a venue called Tobacco Road in Manhattan and we made $1000 and each got $500. I remember thinking “Holy shit! We did this as a two-man band. This is amazing.” Then we really started traveling. We got out to California and started playing festivals like High Sierra.
One day we heard Mike Gordon (Phish) was looking for a drummer for his solo project. He was on the same record label as us at the time, Rope-A-Dope. The guy at Rope-A-Dope recommended Joe, because Joe is an amazing drummer. Next thing we know we are touring as a trio with Mike. Then Trey (Anastasio) called and wanted to tour as a quartet for a summer tour in 2006. We thought we had made it after that, and that all of our shows would be a sell out. Ultimately it wasn’t as next level as we thought. That was my first introduction into the real touring world. Being on a tour bus, travelling around the country. That’s when I realized how much work and dedication this thing really takes. There is never a dull moment. You occasionally go home and rest up, regain your sanity. You write new music along the way. The duo was really a first step for me to make a name for myself. Later on we did some acoustic records. I started recording some songs. Then Joe got an offer to play drums with Further. That’s kind of where we left it, and we haven’t actually played a Duo show in several years.
Let’s talk about the new album, Swift, which was released just last month. Where do you begin when writing new material? How did you decide to take a stab at lead vocals after all of these years?
Marco: Well I introduced the vocals with my last album, Tiger Face, which came out in 2012. I had Kal (Kalmia Traver) from Rubblebucket sing some of the lyrics and melodies. At that time, I was imagining a girl singing those parts. I was blown away by Rubblebucket’s performances and really wanted to collaborate with her. That was the first time I had heard my own music with vocals, and I really liked it. I thought I would collaborate with Kal again with a lot of the tunes that ended up on Swift. I literally had the phone in my hand to call her, and I thought to myself “Why not try doing this yourself, so you can actually perform them live”. I basically just turned on the microphone and started trying some demos. We got a great reaction when we began playing them live.
People were really receptive to it. People who have come to the shows had seen that I had opened that door. It’s a nice element in our show. We have a lot of instrumental songs, but you can sense that the crowd really enjoys it and gets more involved; singing along. It was a very natural evolution of sound for me. After Tiger Face, it really made me want to try it again. I finally pulled it off, and I’m totally hooked. I’m really glad that I finally did it. I like entertaining the crowd and feeling that energy from them. It’s a whole new vibe for our band. We are playing bigger rooms and people are singing and dancing.
I remember hearing a great story behind the old Duo tune “Mephisto”. How do you go about naming so many songs that are strictly instrumental?
Marco: Sometimes I just name them based on what the song reminds me of. I have a song called “Atari” on my first record. There is something about the sound that reminds me of early video games. Another song called “Bus Ride” was written on a tour bus. Sometimes you’re thinking about a person when you’re writing a song, and you name it after them. It’s really pretty fun and easy.
It’s been amazing to watch the progress of your career since the early Duo days. I was fortunate enough to see you with GRAB (Gordon, Russo Anastasio and Benevento) in 2006, as well as Garage A Tois (Stanton Moore, Skerik, Mike Dillon) in 2011. Tell me a little about your experience as a part of these two super groups.
Marco: Playing with Trey and Mike was a blast. Trey was a total whirlwind of creativity. It was so great to be around such a successful songwriter and performer. Just seeing how creative he is on the road and studio. He’s never off. He’s like a little kid that just has endless creativity and thoughts on songs to play, songs to cover. It was really inspiring and I enjoyed seeing how creative and professional he was. He really has a childlike awareness about him, which opens the door to an endless amount of creativity.
Touring around with Garage a Trois; Mike D and Stanton are both incredible percussionists. Skerik is amazing as well. We had a blast on the road. It was more of a punk rock jazz vibe. It was very energetic, aggressive, and we were never holding back. Similar to The Duo, I was playing the bass lines on the organ.
Playing with these groups, everyone is an incredible musician. You can’t really stump them with an idea you have. I’d play a new song for Skerik, Mike D, and Stanton at sound check, and we would play it that night. Everyone is such a great player that you’re never worried about anyone missing a note, or it not sounding right. It’s just nice to see everyone in their element on the road. Mike D practiced tabla every morning in his room, so I would wake up to that. Stanton would whip out his brushes and play his drums in the van. Skerik would always turn me on to crazy punk rock from Seattle. It was just cool to see everyone’s personality during the day. Then at the gig you just get together and rock it out.
Speaking of super groups, the most recent has been Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Many have regarded JRAD as the best Grateful Dead music that has been played in years. How did this project start and how has the experience been?
Marco: It essentially started when Further ended. I know Joe dedicated about three years of his life, maybe more, to learning all of the music of The Grateful Dead. It’s a lot of work. I feel like Joe really embraced it and really got to know the catalog. I think when Further was ending he was maybe thinking to himself that this could be a good opportunity to play all of this same music with his friends; guys who he has a lot of experience with over the years. It was exciting for him to play The Grateful Dead experience, but play with his New York friends. Being that he has so much knowledge on creating a Dead set list, and knowing what really sets off the Deadhead mindset. I saw The Dead twice and I liked them, but I like them a lot more now. I didn’t really know how to go about creating a Dead set list.
Now when we play a set and we’re done, of course people say that they really like the way we play it, but what I really like is that people are blown away by where certain songs are placed in each set. It’s amazing to see how well people knew The Dead’s tendencies. The way Joe scopes the sets really adds the draw. It’s rewarding seeing the people smile from ear to ear in the audience. I have about 100 dead tunes down now which have been great to learn. We’ll see where it goes.
We live in a very different world of music these days, with options like Spotify and Soundcloud. What are your thoughts on the revolution of digital music, and what advice would you give aspiring artists as they record new material?
Marco: I would say that it is great to have it all accessible on your phone. You can listen to hours of music on Spotify on a long drive. It’s cool to be able to tap in to anything that’s out there instantly. But I’m also heavily addicted to collecting vinyl. I enjoy flipping the record and listening to Side B. I’ll be washing the dishes and listening to Side A, then cleaning the kitchen listening to Side B. I think that element of putting together a record and knowing the “set list” of your record is really important. I really like the way my new record, Swift, came out. It flows like a record because I listen to so much vinyl. It helps you understand how albums are supposed to flow. You can potentially miss out on the entire experience. You need to know your records, rather than just knowing every song here and there. It’s cool to get into that process of making a record. My advice would be to listen to records and make records.
There is such an abundance of great new music around you right now. What new artists/groups have you been listening to this year?
Marco: I’ve been listening to a lot of Foxygen and Rubblebucket. Lately I’ve been really into Superhuman Happiness. I love listening to Wilco. I have always loved The Shins as well.
What’s in store for 2015? Will you focus on touring with your band or potentially working with other new projects?
Marco: Being that the record came out a month ago, I have at least another year of touring with my own band. I am coming down South to Atlanta in a couple weeks to play Terminal West. In late February and early March of 2015, we are going out West. We will be playing New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Austin along the way to San Diego, and we will tour up to Seattle. I know what I’m doing until about June. We should know by January about the festivals, and we’ll see what happens.