On a family drive into Chicago a handful of years ago, my brother passed me his silver Sony Discman and simplistic, over-the-top-of-the-head plastic headphones, telling me to listen to the freshly burnt CD that was spinning inside. He said the band playing was called Phish, and they spelled it with a “p-h”, unlike the animal spelled with an “f” that is typically won at a carnival and flushed down the toilet three days later as a victim of overfeeding. It was then that I experienced the first sounds of what raw, non-radio music groups sounded like. Even though it took a little while to get used to there not always being words and a lack of verse-chorus patterns, I slowly grew to love it.
By 2004, after Phish’s announcement of a post-tour breakup, I had camped out in the middle of a cornfield, experienced a ‘lot scene’ and been to the best concert I’d ever seen in my entire life–all for the first and last time. Since then, I’ve incessantly hoped that one day, those four musicians that had shaped my musical interests would reunite. And last Thursday, my wish came true. Kind of.
Even against my better judgment, I couldn’t help but to expect a concert with two members of Phish-guitarist Trey Anastasio and bassist Mike Gordon-to be, well, Phish. There were some elements there–a piano teaser in the opener, oddly similar instrumentals at some points, and two acoustic Phish songs-yet it was more “faux Phish” than not. Although it wasn’t what I was expecting, I will say this–it was still a damn good show.
Marco Benevento and Joe Russo, the keyboard and drums combination of the obviously-named and highly talented Benevento-Russo Duo, opened the show themselves, and without a doubt held their own while playing opposite the high caliber of famous musicians Anastasio and Gordon. I found the talent of the duo remarkable, and wouldn’t mind seeing them live by themselves. In many of the songs, Russo’s drumming was particularly excellent as he stuck out among the instrumentals, while Benevento’s piano playing always made each jam significantly better. Overall, for a concert that was technically made up of two separate duos, the quad meshed together well with a tight group dynamic.
The Benevento-Russo Duo was quite impressive, in addition to the venue’s beautiful background of the Chicago skyline. The music and instrumental jams were strong, and most songs had every audience member grooving and dancing, though I strongly disliked two in particular. One of the first few songs had an extremely flamboyant Beach Boys feel to it, while another had a chorus that was all about riding a bike, namely in a five year old,”I-just-got-my-training-wheels-off-and-Raffi’s-singing-about-it” kind of way.
I have a tendency to complain, but when it comes down to it, the show was really one of the best concerts I’ve seen in a while. The quad had strong music on their own, which was complemented by an extremely energetic version of “Who Are You” a low-key, acoustic cover of “On The Road Again” and an Elliot Smith cover. The quality of the instrumentals throughout was nearly flawless, which was a bit surprising. On Phish’s final tour, fans couldn’t help but notice that Anastasio wavered through songs, forgetting some parts and messing up others. However, in last Thursday’s show, he got his act together, and didn’t slip at all. The jams were long, the music rocked, and the venue was beautiful. I can’t help but think that if a concert was this good with only half of Phish, it may be even better once they reunite. But, until that day, we’ll just have to keep waiting.