When Joe & Marco played the Tap Bar on a weekly basis, laying down the cement foundation for what they’ve become today, it was as much a social event as a musical masterpiece. That was what always drew me to the music: You could stand right on top of the stage and marvel at the music coming out of their eight collective limbs, lose yourself in the chemistry, dance your ass off, or just hang back, sip your cocktail and chat it up with your pals while the greatest background music you could imagine filled the silence around you.
If you go to a Duo show today, you’re in awe before they even begin. How can two musicians take up so much space on a stage? Filling up the volume of a Bowery Ballroom where other nights, four, six, or even 10 people might fit comfortably. Enough gadgets, television monitors, laptops, kids’ toys and wires criss-crossing the stage that you might think they were preparing a shuttle launch, not a rock and roll show.
When they started though, “organ and drums” really meant organ and drums, so I was happy to see they had laid it out bare bones style on Wednesday night. No accouterments to speak of, although, I don’t believe they schlepped their own gear — I guess some things do change in five years.
And what of the music? Does it even matter? If they physically take up a stage and a half, then musically they occupy the space of a hundred stout men. It was that way when it was just two guys and two instruments, and it continues to be so with loops and samples and laptronics. Heck, how many ways can I say “brilliant” without appearing to be a paid shill?
Getting that close, though, actually hovering over the band brings back that old perspective, that old love. I remember when I wrote this those many years ago, with just a shade of hyperbole. Well, I got an e-mail from a guy telling me I was an idiot for fawning over Joe Russo the way I did — I probably still have it tucked away in an old account somewhere. Well, I tell you, watching Joe Wednesday night made me realize for the umpteenth time how very special a talent this guy is: blazing, flailing beauty.
Early on in the first set, during possibly “Raindrops Whisper Words” (although don’t quote me on any setlist items, remember the whiskeys), he played some of the most entrancing drumming I’ve ever witnessed, a totally hypnotic stretch that left me agog, his limbs leaving circular trails in the air: fingerpainting with percussion. Marco reminded me about the times when it was all about that left hand — the appendage with its own agenda, declaring independence from the groove.
There was a lot of that old school vibe, plenty of Zeppelin and other too-fun covers. We got our “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” — the original signature Benevento/Russo number — with very little urging from the crowd. Each tune brought on waves of acknowledgment from the audience, the memories we’ve all shared, many times as a collective, over the past half-decade laid out in real time.
Drunken waves of nostaligia were upon me all night long: of Freaks Balls past, of Makers Marks past, of that late, drowsy evening at the now-departed Fez with maybe 10 of us watching on as Joe & Marco took Jay Rodriguez to Duo school, of the shows after the show when you felt like there was nothing going on anywhere in the world compared with what you were hearing come out of a simple organ and drum kit.
I can only hope in five years we’ll have the next anniversary party where Joe Russo and Marco Benevento will “slum” it and come back to play the Bowery Ballroom, and we’ll remember how great it was when they first played there, and then they’ll take the party back to the Knit and it’ll be a blur of precision and passion, and then it will just be a blur…
Related audio: Pick a show, any show — here’s The Duo on the Archive
Related video: Here’s a short Zepp-clip from the show, courtesy of DuoDarling on the Duo board (spot Neddy rockin’ the ‘Cuse hat up front)
(More photos from the show are on the way…check back later)