Last Thursday, the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins, Colorado became ground zero for Marco Benevento’s winter tour and the beginning of a three-night run through The Centennial State. Backed by the usual suspects Karina Rykman on bass and Dave Butler on drums, the trio delivered a 90-minute set of tunes pulled from each of Benevento’s solo releases.
The night began with a journey skyward, as the trio ignited the evening with Send It on A Rocket, a track off of the newest album, Let It Slide. This song has an ethereal, multi-layered beginning but transitions midway to extensive soloing and rousing crescendos before returning to solid ground. At its close, it was clear that those who chose to brave the cold and snow to attend were in for a treat.
From the opener to the encore, it was apparent that this was no warmup show and that the group was well-rehearsed and prepared to make each choice count. Attendees were taken on a sonic rainbow ride that captured every auditory color and feeling on the spectrum. From the frenetic to the reflective and everything in between, there was something to suit everyone’s taste, and no one had a naysay about the evening at its close.
Listening to the selected tracks, one can clearly hear the influences and decades that have shaped the group, spanning from the bubble-gum pop psychedelia of sixties mainstream, the heavier tones of 70s rock and funk, and the progressive synth stylings of the eighties, all the while being accented with twists of jazz and that original sound that Benevento’s constructs bring to the table. The simplicity of the pieces in their builds allows for the opportunity for improvisation and the band took full advantage of these moments. The music is not wrought with overthought and its seemingly intended point is for sheer joy for the band and the audience equally, easily discerned by the guffaw and amusement of everyone in the room.
Any noted bandleader is only as good as their support and what Benevento gets is a foundation that stands the test of time. Karina Rykman, at only a quarter-century, lays out the bass lines with the ease and ears of an old soul, not only carrying the underlying melodies but improvising as well, all the while looking for and reading the collaborative moment for the opportunities to stun anyone in the room through low-end decimation. Add her songbird vocals and her ability to finesse the phrase with the lightest touch, she is a formidable force that draws as much attention stage ward as anyone she shares it with. With a bass amp that almost equals her own height, Rykman delivered, quaking the walls of The Aggie as well as the bones of the audience, rattling both in pure delight throughout the evening. Her stage presence equaled her talent as her beaming grin and active theatrics, including running, jumping, and pivoting her bass above her head in pure rock and roll fashion, pulled the audience further into her bubble of joy.
Dave Butler, master of brass and skin, tooled out the tempo throughout the night without break or fatigue. Whether laying out straight-ahead timings or delivering on the backbeat, conjuring the jungle spirits through the floor tom or the middle east mystics from the golden cymbal, Butler works equally as hard to keep the sound fresh and alive, never resting on the laurel of repetition or the mundane. His solidarity was often further reflected by his concrete juxtaposed delivery to the synth beats delivered by Benevento, showing that his focus was not only on his own active mechanics but also playing ears wide open. Much like his compatriots, his outward expression mirrored his internal dynamic throughout the night, as his faced glowed with pleasure, twisted in the moment’s raw energy, or found itself somewhere in between.
From start to finish, the man behind the top hat and sunglasses took time to execute his penned pieces with the love and respect one would expect from any musician who is engaged in the performance for passion's sake and not actively seeking the need to be the next big thing. Benevento delivers his lyrics and singing with a confident innocence that shows that what he is doing means more to him than just another night on the road making another dollar. His creativity is exuded throughout his catalog, as no two units could be confused as one another, nor does his works categorize him as having a specific sound. His talent in vision only takes a close second to his skill and conveyance on the keys, where he actively and continuously shapes and accents the moment to the liking of both himself and those listening in. With true showmanship in mind, Benevento took time throughout the evening to engage with the audience through conversation, recognition of “the old school” familiar faces, and actively involving patrons in vocal accompaniment on multiple occasions.
At about a third of what many concert tickets go for today, the price of admission is well worth the cost and the payoff exceed expectation. As of today, this group has four days off until setting out on the remaining east coast and southern dates of the winter tour, leaving plenty of time for fans and unfamiliars to pick up tickets and take a ride that will leave one feeling happier, refreshed, and a little less burdened by the grand meaning of it all, but rather reminded that time, that one thing we all have, should be used for fun.