For fans of the jam, the end of the year represents some of the best opportunities for the live music experience. Whether it be Phish, The String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic or any host of improvisational groups with their multi-night events, ticket holders salivate at the possibilities of seeing shows night after night as well as the crown jewel of ear and eye candy that is December 31st. Although the NYE show is historically the most coveted ticket, veterans of the music scene have often stated that any night on the run can be just as, if not more, rewarding than the last night of the year.
Alongside the mega-runs and legendary venues, smaller shows are often announced in lieu of the main events in major markets and are set up to provide the opportunity to boogie for those shut out of the big game. For the Denver area, one such event came in the pairing of Marco Benevento and Ghost Light.
In June, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead announced that they would close out 2022 with two nights in Broomfield outside of Denver. Composed of multiple members, including Tom Hamilton of Ghost Light and Marco Benevento, this announcement had many excited to return to the Rockies and the great sight lines and sound of the 1st Bank Center. A short while later, two nights would become three (sort of) with the announcement of a pre-show to JRAD with Marco Benevento and Ghost Light hosting evening festivities at The Ogden in Denver proper on December 29th.
Although many expected the events to sell out, rumors abounded in the following months that ticket sales were low. Whether it was because The String Cheese Incident unveiled their plans for three nights at the intimate Mission Ballroom or STS9’s first return to the metropolitan area for NYE since 2018 or because many were heading out of town for Madison Square Gardens and the likes of the JEMP scene, whatever the reason, October was the bearer of bad news that JRAD was pulling out and opting to make up for it with a couple of summer shows on The Rocks. For fans of the band, it was a kick to the midsection, but for those in the area, many still looked forward to the 29th as no news of its cancellation followed. Giving fans an opportunity to catch their breath, October delivered one more blow to Ghost Light patrons with the announcement that the clever keyboardist Holly Bowling was leaving the band. With little to no explanation, it was revealed that The Ogden would house the last show with Holly as a full time member.
The months passed and December finally arrived. Wrought with arctic winter weather and an apocalyptic number of flight cancellations, the warmth that only a great show can bring was greatly welcomed and that is just what those good people got who chose to shake it indoors at The Ogden. With a host of potential looming, doors opened at 6:30 and for those who opted to come early, a real treat was had with the Denver sextet The Green House Band. Giving it their all for a non-stop 45 minute set, they were certainly a great surprise and delivered on the blues, Motown, and southern jam with an execution that made them seem as if they have been together a lot longer than three years. From powerful vocals to a tight ensemble, this well rehearsed, well oiled machine had the whole room of early birds applauding at the end of every song and many checking their phones for other regional opportunities to catch this band on fire.
Following a short set break, the floor was mostly filled and the balcony was comfortably occupied, breaking the conjecture that this show was going to be poorly attended based on all the music that was within five miles of our current location.
Marco Benevento was up next and, per the usual, came out in trio fashion, joined by the energetic “smiles for miles” Karina Rykman on bass and Benevento’s own cousin Chris Corsico on the drums. Donning a blinding white sequin jacket and a three eyed t-shirt, Marco welcomed the crowd and received an equally warm salutation in return. Rykman, grinning from ear to ear, took her spot stage left, touting a red velvet jacket and her newly crafted gold glitter bass, aptly named Goldie Hawn, slung around her thorax, ready to blow minds for their first performance together.
“Coyote Hearing” started the set and the high energy initiated got the place rolling. The expected prowess of Benevento and Rykman was there from the first notes and Corsico quickly threw in letting everyone know that his cousin had made the right choice in choosing him for this evening’s musical adventure. As the drummer of choice through the fall Benevento tour and often backing Rykman in her solo project, Corsico’s contribution from the onset was confident, deliberate, and downright tasty.
Keeping the joy elevated, the bubble gum pop of “Dropkick” was the second choice. Before getting into the lyrics, Marco asked the audience to appreciate Rykman along with him and when the crowd didn’t deliver on his expectation, he called out for a louder appreciation, this time the audience let Marco know how truly appreciative they were. Wanting to bring everyone into the fold, Marco called out for Corsico, and this time, there was no requirement of the crowd to chime in twice, the room calling out exuberantly for cousin Chris. “Dropkick” bopped and popped along and got a healthy dose of Benevento treatment in the middle that had the crowd waving their hands in the air at the climax as Marco dripped with sweat and Rykman’s hair was thrown in every direction.
The waterfall echo of “Greenpoint” pulled the room into the rippling ride. Heavy bass lines anchored the trailing meanderings of Benevento’s talent as the drums swam in between, sliding from solid snaps to shifting cymbal sands. Amidst the melody, the band threw in a tease on Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner”, a usual component for this one.
Inlaid with heavy bass distortion supporting the uplifting Marco melody, the structure of “Heartbeats” kept the show going in a juxtapositional balance. Corsico dropped on the toms and shuffled the snare, making all the changes, and continued to play the material as though he had been playing these numbers for years.
Kicking off “Send It On a Rocket”, Rykman laid out that oh so sweet resounding bassline, prompting Marco to acknowledge her once again, the crowd happy to recognize. Oscillating between vibrato synth effects and digital strings sounds as well as the occasional space effect, the room now nearly filled to capacity, orbited the stage in Marco’s host of effects.
Taking a pause, Marco addressed the crowd, “Do you all want to hear anything in particular? Special requests?”, which was met with a muddled barrage of shout outs, to which Marco laughed and said, “ Well sh*t, that was a bad idea, I can’t hear anything!” Finally discerning something, the band acknowledged the request and continued with “The Real Morning Party”, encouraging everyone to sing along, which of course everyone did. This one contained a short but fiery drum solo in the middle, resulting in calls for more before the trio returned to the head. Marco took the end of the number for a wild ride having everyone holding on for the good life.
Taking requests again, Marco now offered “songs for a buck”. As many reached for their wallets, Marco stated,”A friend of mine also gave me a dollar to play a song. I don’t know where she went, but uh…” At this point Holly Bowling came in behind Marco with a stack of dollars and made it rain over Benevento as Rykman and Corsico pushed the crowd into louder and louder cheers.
Inviting Bowling to share the bench, the two filled their faces with genuine smiles and paired up for a four-handed rendition of “Atari”, an accomplishment that two had completed for audiences in times past. As the minutes passed, the duo’s smiles never waned and at the tune’s end, B&B hugged tightly and smiled grander than when they had started.
Recognizing JRAD’s sound engineer John Hanson who had been running sound for the set and for the first time for a Benevento show, Marco thanked his longtime friend and dedicated the next section to him. Kicking off the transitional masterpiece with Hanson’s reported favorite song, “Story of Fred Short”, the trifecta of effecta wove in and out of twenty plus minutes of seamless playing with “Seven Twenty Two”, “Walking With Tyrone”, “Live A Certain Life”, and “Stay In Line”, leaving everyone, not just the band, dripping with sweat and beaming like energized headlights.
Riding the high and wanting to keep the party going, the disco infused “I Can’t See the Light” elevated the energy on the dance floor. With multiple calls for “everyone to make some noise”, this one just kept the good vibes glowing and flowing.
Firing up the joy machine one more time, the set closed with “At the Show”. Benevento began with, “I appreciate / the way you accentuate / what I consider to be the positive! How about a round of applause for the positive? I want to see you on your baddest behavior / lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor!”. Closing it out with one last sing-along song, Benevento, Corsico, and Rykman delivered on the expected revelry and revitalization that drew out the inner kid to play, have fun, and leave it all hanging out with a smile and a hug for life itself.
Another half hour break had many filling up for the closing set of heavy Ghost Light psychedelia. When the lights went down, the house music changed from some muted motown tune to an audibly louder piping of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” as the band members took the stage. Their faces filled with laughter, this piece of music seemed like some sort of inside joke that the audience was not privy to. Nonetheless, this did not bar the attendees from jumping in on the chorus as multiple members of Ghost Light danced and sang along to the 80’s hit. Tom Hamilton, straight faced and unamused, hit a dischord on the guitar and reeled everyone in to seriousness, prompting Taylor Shell to lay out the baseline groove of “Don’t You Say Goodnight Just Yet” to get it all started. Drummer Scotty Zwang fell in line and the groove was on. Holly Bowling began adding scratchy effects until finally amidst the dark purple lights and thick groove, the ethereal voicing of Raina Mullen rolled out the lyrics. Only a few measures in and it was obvious the band was on point. The first round of solos produced dueling between Mullen and Hamilton, eventually braking to give Bowling time to solo with a classic piano sound. All throughout the piece, Bowling contributed a myriad of flavors, from organ to synth to otherworldly oddities. Multiple minutes in, the feel slowed and became unsettling and deep, like falling through space or sinking into murky depths of discombobulation. Several minutes passed and the energy turned skyward, Hamilton and Mullen laying out line after line of frenetic streams, until almost one could take no more before the band yielded and left Mullen to cap the anthem with the final lyrical statements and closing measures. In the end, this tight opener timed out at over seventeen minutes and the fuse was lit.
“Don’t Come Apart Just Yet, My Dear” was next and had Hamilton taking vocal control with great back up harmonies from the rest of the band. This rocker was more straightforward in composition than its predecessor but was equally filled with the same tasty spice and touched on points of beauty, power, and inspiration. Midway through, Tom threw out some great Jerry-esque guitar work, equipped with that “Shakedown” wah effect and upped the dancing ante of the room.
Now thirty minutes into the show, Tom addressed the audience with a simple, “Good evening, Denver”, before starting up the title track of their latest studio creation The Healing. This one showcases Hamilton’s ability in the higher vocal registries, reflecting the talent in this artist as the whole singer / songwriter / musician package. Again, the harmonizations from Mullen and Bowling were spot on and accentuated the caliber of the craft that is Ghost Light Music. Bowling got first pass at the solo spot and lit the room from the inside out, working out those fingers as though they were possessed, but without missing a note or coming off the rails. Short but savory at seven minutes, the crowd certainly gave it up to the band at the end of this new one.
“Diamond Eyes” off of their freshman album Best Kept Secret got a wave of recognition from the audience with the opening chords. Mullen slipped right into the lyrics and showed again her talent as both fierce singer and first place guitarist. The middle groove hit the funk bone of everyone and the dance floor was alive with people getting down, eyes closed, and listening to every shift. Nine minutes in and the tune that defines ebb and flow “Synth Driver” morphed out of the ashes of “Diamond Eyes” and converted the disco to a meandering river of mood and muse. The ending few minutes filled the space with multiple textures before summiting an explosive volcanic ending, blowing chaos, fire, and an end of times energy that at its stop into silence had many onlookers saying “Damn!”. All sung and done, the pairing resulted in nearly twenty minutes of flavor filled musicality and cosmic joy.
Turning to the honky-tonk with a Bo Diddley feel, American Babies’ classic “Old Time Religion” brought the crowd in for a little Sunday church service. Bowling laid it all out on the classic piano effect and showed in simplicity how great she is at what she does. Shell and Zwang just laid it on thick, keeping perfectly the rumble without fumble as the guitars shredded over the top. As with many pieces throughout the night, this one also swung from the highs of revival to the low and slow of emotion, expertly demonstrating the prowess of this outfit.
As church let out, Hamilton picked up the acoustic and Bowling slipped into the Hammond as the rhythm section turned down, the whole migrating into the melancholy of “Bring It In Close”. The third American Babies number of the night, this one breathed with softness and emotion at the onset, picked up a punchy middle, and ended on a “Morning Dew”-like crescendo that simply took the breath away.
Shaking off the acapella echoey ending of “Bring It In Close”, the set shut with the pop rock of “Fever Dreams” and although this one let out with a spirited chase, its head eventually disintegrated open into wide and angular territory, each member notching out their corner while still coloring outside the lines in complement to their compadres.
For the encore, Mullen closed out the night with another track off of The Healing in “Take Some Time”. Short and sweet, the tune warmed the room before sending everyone out into a chilly, snow-edged evening.
December 29th was a reward from start to finish. From the surprise in the talented opener The Green House Band to Benevento, Rykman, and Corsico getting the dance party started to the psychoactive exercise that is Ghost Light, three sets over five hours: enough said. All participants, including the audience, brought their A game and none left dissatisfied. Although no mention of Bowling’s departure was issued, the evening was without somber or hesitation and from all perspectives, it was business as usual and well worth the time and money. As the year closes, the promise of the new one brings just that: more promise. The promise of change, possibility, and the unexpected and when one considers the world of music, this can mean just about anything can happen. Holly, we wish you the best of luck and look forward to everything you do in 2023 and for Ghost Light, the fans can’t wait to see who you put on that bench, behind those keys to keep this obvious great thing going. Marco, Karina, and Chris, here is to you and your already announced 2023 spring tour. May you keep dishing out the positive for all those who surround you. Finally, Green House Band, you got that special thing so keep on toiling in the garden of life as music lovers everywhere need some of your goodness and newness for the upcoming solar cycle.