The Duo: Higher Ground, South Burlington, VT – 11/15/07

Childhood friends Marco Benevento and Joe Russo have been playing together as the Duo for over five years now.  Surely, if they released albums as prolific as their live outings, their catalog would be enormous; however their last proper release was 2006’s Play Pause Stop.  The Duo should not be judged by their album outputs, they are first and foremost a live act. Their performance at Higher Ground, although not one of their “epic” shows, was surely another whirlwind of unclassifiable rock and jazz that proved they are one of today’s elite instrumental rock units going.

Though some may perceive the Duo as hippie friendly jam rock, their pairing of modern fresh indie rock textures along with jazz progressions proved there is hope in the live improvisational rock scene, which sometimes seems to be hanging on by a keg of Magic Hat.  This year in particular has been especially fruitful for Benevento with the release of his magical 3 CD release- Live at Tonic – and the recent news of his early 2008 solo studio debut – Invisible Baby.

This particularly sparse Thursday night audience at Higher Ground were offered a different Duo flavor as nearby Montreal resident and longtime friend and collaborator Brad Barr (The Slip) swung south across the border to join his pals for a large portion of the performance. In the spirit of improvisation, the “trio” kicked away the set-list and went from the familiar into the un-familiar.  The set kicked off with the Duo by themselves on “Something for Rockets. “ You could tell they were ready for the appearance of Brad Barr as the song, while not rushed, was to the point and didn’t expand outward.

After the song ended Barr quickly emerged, visibly pumped up, and the group started the “trio” segment proper with the fan favorite “Sunny’s Song.” The rest of the set was comprised of older Duo songs given a facelift, with Barr adding a lot of flavor. Another fan favorite, “Becky,” pushed the boundaries of jazz, landing briefly in free jazz. The set was action packed but did lack some when it came to full blown energy. As expected, it wouldn’t be a Burlington Duo show without a guest appearance from Mike Gordon and the former Duo bandmate delivered some additional guitar work alongside Barr during an encore rendition of “Mephisto.”
Although the improv-rock friendly town of Burlington would typically expect bigger crowds on a Thursday, the trio continued to deliver as the whiskey set in, proving that substance sometimes takes precedence over matter.

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