Thursday night, Ford’s Amphitheater continued their series of summer concerts on the Coney Island boardwalk, and this was one for the books. Greensky Bluegrass, in honor of the twentieth anniversary of Phish’s Waterwheel Foundation, came to the amphitheater and threw down a terrific couple of sets that were also guested for several tunes by keyboardist Marco Benevento. This was a collaboration that fans from all sides were enticed to hear, and as the show progressed through the night it proved to be as magnificent as hoped for.
Marco Benevento’s band kicked off the night with their own righteous opening set. Marco is a man mastering many styles and sounds on his piano, and music made with his own crew, a modern day power trio, comes as a wonderful melting pot of all of his favorited flairs – 80s dance rock meeting punk meeting psychedelic meeting rockabilly feel. Marco and his bandmates maintain crisp, jazz-level chops all around, while yet careening again and again on the edge of insane musical energy.
This set featured a fantastic offering of the “Fred Short Suite,” the segued collection of songs Marco composed for his most recent studio album. They reached an awesome, dance-crazed climax during the mid-point of this suite, and had the crowd that was spilling into Ford’s Amphitheater riled with excitement. Following the suite, Rykman stepped up to the microphone to sing on a cool version of The Butthole Surfer’s “Pepper.” The trio rounded out their opening set with Marco’s classic “Limbs of a Pine,” which was first met with awesome drums breaks, then exited with quick speed into what has become the trio’s set-ending staple of late, Harry Nilsson’s ‘Jump Into The Fire.” The set was capped off, of course, by Marco’s inspired piano-leap into the air.
Perhaps given the size and grandeur of the venue, Greensky opted for a “Windshield,” opener, a tune definitely on their more indie side, and an incredible song no doubt. It had a concert rock kind of feel to kick things off in Ford’s Amphitheater. The band continued with some swift, tight bluegrass numbers like “Take Cover,” a strong early “Train Junkie,” and a favorite for many fans, “Seymour.”
Marco came out then, and of course Ford Ampitheatre was holding their breath to hear what musical places these two forces would lift Coney Island to. First though, came some grade-A banter, about being fathers, JRAD tickets, and watching Phish streams. The collaboration started on Greensky’s own “Lose My Way.” When Anders began to rip some improv into this one, Marco followed on his heels, matching the dobro player’s gusto with his own. Marco, although unfortunately slightly hard to hear in the mix, sounded like he was first figuring out how to carefully enter Greensky’s formidable fray of playing, and then once he had hit, he just dove in, and helped the band take this first song together on a great, breezy first ride.
This was followed by the funky take on the traditional “Working On a Building,” and then the Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle With Care,” and this is where the show truly began to launch. With the band and Marco really blending nicely now, the song bled into heavy improv with ease, and throttled straight into a tension-filled, raging peak to end the first set. Set two opened to another favorite among fans, “The Four,” which spilled over into a very neat cover, this time of Billy Joel’s “Big Shot.” Set two then hit a wonderful peak with a lofty, uplifting version of “Living Over” that had the entirety of the Ford Amphitheater’s crowd glowing with energy.
Marco came back out after this for “I’d Probably Kill You,” Greensky’s New Orleans-tinged original that was definitely a good choice for the pianist’s signature ragtime sound. This tune was started off, to excitable whispers throughout the venue, on intro teases of “Shakedown St.” But “Leap Year,” next, was for sure the shining number of the night. Undoubtedly one of the grooviest tunes in Greensky’s repertoire, it often invites the most unique, and funkiest, improv from the band. So with Marco on board, this jam vehicle really flew. Again, once Marco found his way, he blended pretty seamlessly with his bluegrass collaborators, creating a colorful, heady concoction.
At the high point of this one, one or two Greensky members threw in more “Shakedown” teases, followed by “Help On The Way” teases, to responses of laughter on stage and more excitement from the audience. “Leap Year” always boils down into it’s hushed, audience-and-Hoffman singalong section. But on this night the band held off on this part briefly, first pushing the song a bit further into a very cool place, before bringing it back around into its bluegrass ending. At the tail end of this amazing jam, Hoffman baited Marco into some fun back and forth breakdown soloing.
Greensky wrapped things up on their own, and strongly so, with an “Old Barns” that segued right into a mighty “Kerosene,” to finish. This one featured teases of “Let it Grow” and Anders going electric and digging into some really great, raunchy soloing.
All returned to encore with a quick but feel-good “Atlantic City,” a nice way to end this absolutely special night of music. Greensky Bluegrass hits Vermont tonight, followed by some appearances next weekend at festivals like Grand Targhee and Hoxeyville. Marco Benevento and his trio will hit Outside Lands next weekend, before an east coast tour across September and October.
Written and photographed by Miles Hurley