101510 Marco Benevento, Ottawa, ON

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For what seemed like a very brief time a bar in Westboro* called The Elmwood Tavern started booking cool shows, the likes of which my friends and I tended to frequent often.

I don’t know exactly when this short musical era began or ended, but I do know that October 15th, 2010 fell somewhere inside The Elmwood’s tiny window of musical opportunity because I went to a plum of a show there on that night, and so did virtually all of my friends.

If there were a ticket stub for this event it would read “Marco Benevento”, but sadly there is not.  As this was ‘just another bar show’ none were printed, but even if they had been those tickets would have included two glaring omissions, namely Dave Dreiwitz on bass and Andy Borger on drums.  The two guys that rounded out Marco’s trio that night are both tiny little monsters in their own right and they are pretty well-connected too; Dave is best known for playing with the mighty Ween and Andy has played with the great Tom Waits(!) and Norah Jones as well.  

I suppose it’s fair to point out that Marco Benevento is also probably a bit more famous for his associations than he is on his own, having joined Joe Russo backing up Phish’s Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon on a tour back in 2006 and playing with jamband light-heavyweights Garage A Trois and JRAD.  But no matter how you package it, we’re talking about three great players doing their thing in front of a very appreciative crowd in a small, somewhat dingy bar midway down Wellington Street.

When I say “their thing” I mean playing extended grooves based on mostly super-familiar melodies and song-structures from bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and Elton John.  The jams were all-instrumental and that didn’t matter in the least; we all knew the words to all the songs and we chose to sing them aloud or in our heads whenever we wanted to.  Songs that are part of every music-lovers soul stretched out farther and farther forcing us in the audience to dance and dance…

And when I say “in front of a very appreciative crowd” I’m being quite literal.  The band was set up right on the floor, packed into the front corner of a mid-sized bar that was already divided in half by a solid wall.  The only thing that separated the band from the crowd was maybe six inches of air and a little respect.  We were all jammed in tight and it was everything we could do to not stumble-dance right into the musicians.

I’m embarrassed to report that the crowd was so close to the band that at one point – at a moment when the band had jammed the crowd to such a tizzy – one of my friends extended his arm and actually tousled Marco Benevento’s hair while the pianist was in the middle of one of his many mind-bending solos.  Though I’m sure it was a gesture made solely out of respect and appreciation and one that was definitely acted upon on the heels of much too much alcohol and just enough rock and roll, It was nonetheless a pretty shocking breach of the whole audience-performer thing.

Though I must say it appeared to have freaked me out more than it did Marco; he just shrugged it off and kept pounding away on his small painted piano, pro that he is.

But yeah, it was that tight in there.

They closed with a nirvana-inducing version of Nobody Does It Better by Carly Simon.  What a great song, and what a fine, fine choice to end the evening…I’ll never forget it.

After the show a bunch of us stood outside and chatted with the band as they packed their equipment into a small trailer.  We tried to convince them to join us for an afterparty that was about to begin virtually across the street from the bar.  They’d love to, they said, but they couldn’t make it.  

Their loss.  It was a great party.

(You can listen to Bradm’s recording of this show here, and I think you should.)

*Or is it Hintonburg?  Ottawa has so many little neighbourhoods it’s sometimes hard to keep track of where they overlap.

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