The Bengsons
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The Bengsons

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Band Folk


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This band has not uploaded any videos



""Soaring vocals that sound eerily like PJ Harvey channeling Edith Piaf sans French accent." (Feb 2011)"

Being The Bengsons.

All the theater geeks and band kids will want to grow up to be them, except those secretly pining for an audition to join the cast of Glee. When not churning out Off Broadway musicals proclaiming the need for social change, Abigail Nessen Bengson and Shaun McClain Bengson play Vaudeville Indie Folk under the sobriquet The Bengsons and electro-inspired rock with their side-project, Ol’ Zombie Nationalists, to growing acclaim.

Currently touring in supporting their latest effort, The Proof, the husband and wife duo claim a miscellany of influences ranging from Etta James to Tom Waits, Hank Williams to Gnarles Barkley. From the poppy, catchy chorus dominating “Even Then I will See you Again” to the sparse, banjo-driven “Growing Flames” to the Celtic folk-inflected “Empty Trailers,” the album demonstrates the Brooklyn-based couple’s ability to switch musical gears fluidly. “Lady and Whiskey” seems lifted directly from a musical, piano and accordion laying a foundation for manic, soaring vocals that sound eerily like PJ Harvey channeling Edith Piaf sans French accent.

The Bengsons play with Oh Horizon and Martini & James! at 9 pm, Thursday, Feb. 10, at Sam Bond’s Garage; $5 door. — Ephraim Payne - Eugene Weekly

""A must see for all." (Jan 2011)"

January 14, 2011 – When the Bengsons walked onstage at Radio Bean last Friday, the entire audience fell silent in anticipation for their opening song. I had never seen them perform live, but those who had promised a very entertaining night. As the married couple prepared their instruments and cleared their throats, I waited curiously while observing the way they frequently smiled at one another with confidence while getting things ready. It was obvious they were in love, and that their music was going to be about it.

Underneath the glowing red lights, they played as if they were onstage at Broadway, clapping and stomping as though the cafe extended for miles. Each song was performed with such enthusiasm that it felt impossible to tear your eyes away for a second to order another drink.

Abigail Nessen, the lead singer, was filled with intensity and would frequently pound the palm of her hand on her chest while she sang, baring her soul to the crowd. Her voice naturally reached every pitch, from impersonating a low-toned, drunken southern man to portraying a seductive Italian woman. Her husband, Shaun McClain, never missed a beat as they exchanged glances and drastically changed tempos.

As their last song came to an end, I felt as though I was leaving the theatre. People quietly put on their coats smiling, reflecting on the inspiring performance that just took place. The couple immediately stepped offstage and started greeting people, giving hugs and kisses to friends as well as strangers.

Seeing the Bengsons perform live was truly an invigorating experience overflowing with honest chemistry. A must see for all. - Burlington Music Magazine

""A must see band... unlike anything you have ever seen" (May, 2011)"

A double bill that featured two of New York Cities finest new bands; garage rockers The Twees and vaudeville rockers The Bengsons. It was a night that you had to make sure you had your dancing shoes ready because it was time to cut a little rug.

The husband and wife duo of The Bengsons would open the second gig at Mercury. Backed by a full band including a harpist, Shaun and Abigail Bengson were ready to party as were the tiny crowd that gathered on the floor in front of them. The band's music is a hybrid of Dresden Dolls meets Gogol Bordello meets Annie Get Your Gun, it is nothing but shear pleasure to watch, enjoy and indulge in. The Bengsons have been together for a few years and just earlier this year they released their latest, The Proof. While, The Proof is a fun and enjoyable listen the purpose of the record, I feel, is the lure you into seeing them live, because it is on stage where The Bengsons true home is. The band has to rise to every music journalists list as a must see band soon, because it is unlike anything you have ever seen. Its as fast and furious as a punk show but as creative and clever as an Off-Broadway play. Boundaries for The Bengsons do not exist and their shows are a testament to this.

- Salvatore Bono

- Examiner

"“The Bengsons radiate charm on stage... The songs [are] always catchy and engaging... the honesty and the empathy for the subjects are undeniable.”"

“The best in Vaudeville Indie Folk!”

This proclamation was the subject line to an email that landed in my inbox last week about music/theatre duo The Bengsons, who performed their traveling show Ain’t That Good News at The Satori Loft last Friday and Saturday.

Their week-long workshop and residency with The Satori Group culminates with an excerpt from their work-in-progress The Proof, to be performed as part of Satori’s “First Look” series alongside two others works-in-progress from Satori company members Anthony Darnell and Greta Wilson (last night and tonight, Feb. 7-8 at 8pm, $8 suggested donation; tickets).

If that whole “vaudeville indie folk” thing gives you pause, you wouldn’t be in bad company: it certainly raised a few eyebrows around my office. It shouldn’t.

The Bengsons exist on the edge of a wider push toward personal storytelling of the true and fantastical variety embodied elsewhere in the recent success and wild popularity of storytelling groups like The Moth and, locally, A Guide to Visitors. Wife and husband team Abigail Nessen Bengson and Shaun McClain Bengson have embarked on a global quest to meet people, hear their stories, and write quirky songs about them along the way.

The caravan of stories in Ain’t That Good News ventures to places as far-flung as an El Salvadorian junkyard as well as nearer to home in New Orleans and Rutland, Vermont. The stories themselves range from the relatively commonplace, (a soccer game between rival gangs), to the more fantastical, (a reincarnationist recounting a string of gay love affairs with history’s greatest dictators). The songs are as varied as the stories but always catchy and engaging, presented minimally on a bare stage with simple projections to denote the current location. If the vaudevillian shtick sometimes borders on being a little too practiced and outsized it’s forgivable, because the honesty and the empathy for the subjects are undeniable.

Unlike Good News, The Proof will focus on one central story and be a fully realized stage production including video design by Satori’s Andrew Lazarow. The Bengsons radiate charm on stage, and if their cabaret show is any indication, their full production promises to be both eccentric and touching. I’m looking forward to it. - Seattle Sunbreak

""There is just no easy way to describe the experience... It's a little bit of everything and also unlike anything you've seen and heard before. There's no show quite like it... on any stage anywhere""

(Review from The Bengsons' performance of their piece Ain't That Good News at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, 2010)

Critic's Pick

There is something supremely liberating about knowing that, of all the many people around the world, at the instant you’re attending Ain’t That Good News you most certainly are the only one having that exact experience. You must be, because there's no show quite like it. Not just in the Cincy Fringe or any Fringe, but on any stage anywhere.

It seems simple enough and therefore not unique: two performers, two mics, a handful of instruments and an otherwise bare stage. But until you factor in the two personalities, their talents and their collective life experiences, you don’t realize what a long, strange trip you’re on.

Truth be told, the performers — husband and wife duo Abigail and Shaun Bengson — are the ones whose trip you’re bogarting. But that’s the whole basis of the show. They traveled the world, the Bengsons explain at the outset.

“That’s what we do,” Abigail says. “We talk to people and write songs about them.”

This show is a collection of about 10 of those songs with their back-stories sometimes thrown in for good measure.

Right from the start, as soon as the first bars of the first tune are played, it's clear Abigail has a killer voice with Janis Joplin-type vocal power tucked away. It doesn’t entirely come out in that first piece, but I made a mental note to wait for it. During the next song, a tune inspired by a gang member in El Salvador, she hints at it even more. Unfortunately, most of the audience is left waiting for it to connect with them since Abigail’s vocal acrobatics are all in Spanish. Impressive nonetheless.

Shaun’s musical skills shine in the next piece about a vaudevillian from Vermont and his masturbating monkey. (As Abigail says, “You can’t make this stuff up.”) Shaun expertly plays any number of musical instruments over the course of Ain’t That Good News, including the guitar, keyboards, ukulele and accordion. His vocals get a chance to shine in the fourth tune about shut-ins in Indiana. It’s a poignantly sad song, the kind Neil Young in his prime would write.

Abigail brings the characters in the stories to life through her vocal prowess: the Norwegian circus performer out for vengeance, the God-fearing mother from Dayton and the friend from New Orleans who vividly describes the perfect woman. They all have different stories to tell. So the Bengsons perform each piece differently, mixing up the style constantly.

It’s a cool device that implies the Bengsons don’t just think what you have to say is unique and interesting. They’re also going to musically present your story in a way that's unique and interesting in the context of their show.

The Coffee Emporium space helps the intimate vibe immensely. If there is a quibble, it’s that some of the vocals got a bit garbled in the back of the space during the show’s first performance. I hope it can be corrected quickly.

There’s just no easy way to describe the experience. It’s like a New York cabaret performed by a young couple on their way to Haight-Ashbury by way of a coffeehouse open mic in Athens, Ohio. It’s odd and raw, by turns challenging and accessible, touching and frothy.

It’s a little bit of everything, and it’s also unlike anything you’ve seen and heard before. For Fringe-goers, that’s good news. - Citybeat (Cincinnati)

""They will be the next break through artist smashing onto the scene. They are completely innovative and thrilling.""

My comrade whispered to me, “You will fall in love with The Bengsons, You will want to review them straight away”. It is spot on, the instant the album was sent to me; I had to begin writing about this remarkable LP.

This is both an album and a theatre show. Shaun McClain Bengson and Abigail Nessen Bengson are a married couple. She hails from Vermont and he hails from Cleveland, Ohio. Having a strong fondness for international music from a young age, the duo has a diverse collection of influences. The foremost influences in terms of their own songwriting include The Beatles and Paul Simon. As for Abigail’s extraordinary singing, her influences comprise of Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James and Joni Mitchell. Musical influences in general for the duo embrace the likes of Tom Waits, Andrew Bird and my beloved Sufjan Stevens. I think everyone wins here.

Opening with “Even Then Will I See You Again”, their incredibly breathtaking talent is on display from day dot. Percussion is physically powerful with exceptionally chilling echoed voices. Her voice is accurately impressive. Shaun and Abigail grew up playing music with their families and learnt several different instruments. Shaun playing all the instruments on the album just reinforces the factual talent of this group. Awfully extraordinary, “Bring your belly” spanning only 29 seconds is an extremely dramatic illustration of their flair. “Rust Birds”, is where voices are thunderous, and the guitar is exceptional . “Rust birds” giving an almost Sufjan Stevens reverberation. Ok bells, man, this is huge! Bells! Bells! Bells! It is actually wild. The start of it sounding almost like the postal service’s “Such Great Heights” but better. Amen to that!

“Lady and Whiskey”, extraordinarily murky and inexplicable. Abigail’s voice, scandalous and electrifying me, I am put into some sort of daze. This song is something unique; I have never heard anything like it. Can I feel chills down my spine? That I can…

Only half way through the album and I can already tell that this band is going places. They will be the next break through artist smashing onto the scene. They are panning out stuff completely innovative and thrilling. What I do like, particularly about this band is how each song has a new set up of vocals. Occasionally Shaun sings, and at times Abigail sings and if we are lucky enough they sing collectively.
“Empty Trailers” conjures up a sort of nostalgia for me. I don’t exactly know why. “Café” is showcasing Abigail’s voice once again. Extraordinarily weird and wonderful. Each song is something out of the ordinary, elucidating the astonishing talent of this group. Shaun thinks that their sound is like that of Andrew Bird, Arcade Fire and Cathleen Edwards. So, if you’re interested in any of that or what I have mentioned above, listen up citizens!

In conclusion, I am predicting that this band will be going far in the coming years. Even then, I will see you again.

Sarah Marshman - Blogcritic (Australia)

"“The pair sounds like Janis Joplin and David Byrne reinterpreting the Charles Manson catalog.”"

Shaun and Abigail Bengson are a husband-and-wife duo from Brooklyn who perform in a variety of different mediums. The latter has penned original off-Broadway musicals, while together the pair has performed as electro-wonders Zombie Nationalists. The project called the Bengsons is a vaudevillian indie-rock show, and its influences are all over the map. At times, the pair sounds like Janis Joplin and David Byrne reinterpreting the Charles Manson catalog; other inspirations range from '70s sunshine pop à la the Poppy Family to a slightly less lyrical Richard Buckner. The Bengsons doesn't stop at pushing the experimental envelope, either; the duo are also teachers and activists who have completed a number of artist residencies across the country and taught in New York City public schools and at an orphanages and missions across South America. - St Louis Riverfront Times

""Beautiful and artful" says - review of The Magic Show"

The Magic Show: The Story of the Barefoot Angels

reviewed by Lucile Scott

May 26, 2009

Abigail Nesson Bengson takes the stage belting an upbeat gospel tune, calling one and all to a revival type meeting in The Magic Show: The Story of the Barefoot Angels, which she created and performs. And then with nary a prop she continues to fill the sparse set with engaging dynamism, her powerful, versatile singing voice, and six good-hearted characters who can't help but exude a sweet joy even as they encounter the tragedies of cataclysmic natural disasters and a subsequent insufficient government response.

Along the way her one-man (hus)band, Shaun McClain Bengson, perching in the corner, accompanies her on a guitar, accordion, and more as her characters sing songs ranging in genre from blues and gospel to Salvadorian hip-hop. The most impressive musical moment may come when the young Bengson sings a blues song in a raspy though lovely voice that she convincing and movingly attributes to an old Southern fix-it man character who sounds like he has spent life living hard.

While the stirring tunes ice off and create a cultural mood for the show, the bulk of the performance consists of text, in which the characters, residing in New Orleans, El Salvador, and New York, confront life and a certain amount of hardship and poverty before confronting the even greater hardship of sudden disaster, whether it be a hurricane, a volcano, or 9/11. Several of the characters, including a Harlem teenager with a penchant for Juicy Couture, a little boy suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome, and a cocky, young Salvadorian gang member, are introduced with monologues before their connections to one another or any semblance of a plot is revealed. Bengson slowly weaves the considerable poetry of her language into the intertwining plot, which plays out like verses of a song instead of as a conventional narrative structure, snapping back and forth from city to city and character to character, and gracefully bringing us to the inevitable, disastrous climax and the effects on all.

At times I wished that her music served more to develop the poignant and even haunting plot instead of as a somewhat relevant aside, especially as the emotions mounted and the existence of the plot became clear. I also wondered if the plot involving 9/11 was altogether necessary to develop the themes in a show focusing more on natural disasters and imagery of water and floods and volcanoes. But I walked out feeling that I had indeed witnessed moments of magic in this beautiful and artful show.

Written/created by: Abigail Nesson Bengson
Directed by David Eppel -

""Would bring tears to Charles Manson's eyes" says My Feet Only Walk Forward - review of the Magic Show"

My Feet Only Walk Forward
Saturday, May 30, 2009
The Magic Show: The Story of the Barefoot Angels

Do yourself a favor...tonight is the last performance of this amazing show in the soloNova festival at the DR2 Theater on East 15th next door to Fuerza Bruta. I saw this show last night with soloNova artist Ryan Migge of Maddy Mann fame (who also had a tremendous show...and will...soon...have an interview published here about his performance and his character Maddy).

The Magic Show will reach inside of you and take you from hysterical laughter to hysterical rage and mix it all together in a sorrow gumbo. With tremendous vocals and a range of stunning and diverse musical stylings, Abigail Nesson Bengson transforms from a mentally disabled boy to a cocolo from el Barrio en Santa Ana to an old black blues man in New Orleans. This story takes you from vulcanic slopes in El Salvador to a sloping roof in the midst of Katrina...and with the witticism of a east side Jewish matron and an uptown teen negrita in Juicy Couture...this play would bring tears to Charles Manson's eyes.

Do yourself a favor...see this show...tonight is the last's just over an hour long...and it is worth every fucking penny: 7pm at the DR2 Theater at Union Square.

"Collected quotes:"

"Not only a tremendous musical talent, but also a raw honesty and sincere righteousness." The New York Times

“A rare and compelling talent.” - Rachel Chanoff, Artistic Director of Celebrate Brooklyn and MASS MoCA

"Inspired...worthy of Bob Fosse's Cabaret work, as funny as it is horrifying." EDGE Entertainment

“Friendly, fresh-faced and downright enchanting... audiences are bound to sit up and take notice.” Addison Independent

"Abigail Nessen, also a funny comedian, took the honors as the best singer in the bunch. Her strong and precise voice will be right at home on Broadway." Broadway Blog

"Nessen has a rare gift and a maturity beyond her years...she's meant to be a star." Jim Russek, Broadway and Off-Broadway producer

“At this young age ...(Nessen)... already has something I can honestly call her own work. I pray she continues, as I believe she is creating a new art form.” Jonathan Hart Makwaia, Director and Teacher, Roy Hart Theater

“(Nessen's) art is activism, her activism is art. She is poised to be a next great artist for change.” Roberto Sifuentes, teacher and performance artist, protege to Guillermo Gómez-Peña
- New York Times, EDGE Entertainment, various producers...

""Inspirational, talented, and great fun." David Eppel, Williams College and Mass MoCA"

Abigail Nessen and her husband, Shaun Bengson and I, traveled through South Africa together, last July. They performed their show AINT THAT GOOD NEWS in Cape Town and in Johannesburg. They participated in the work of a choir in Khayalitsha, and taught the students at the Market Theatre Lab in Johannesburg. For them, South Africa was a new experience, for me, a revisiting through a fresh lense. I worked with Abigail when she was a student at Williams College, and I knew then, the extent of her remarkable talent. When she asked me to work with her and her new husband, Shaun, I leapt at the chance. Together these two story-tellers are inspirational, talented, and great fun. Their stories are told without guile, with humility and with respect. They tell what they see. They tell what they hear. They tell what they feel. For me to listen to them telling stories about a place I know so well, was a wonderful experience. They don’t intrude. They try not to judge. They are like troubadours, soaking up the landscape and making music. Their songs and stories resonate wherever they go. And their influence on the young people with whom they worked in Johannesburg, at the Market Theatre Lab was unmistakable. From Cape Town to Plett and PE; from Grahamstown and the deep, deep Karoo, through the madness of Steynsburg, to a corn-field in the Free State and boot-parties in Melville, Abigail and Shaun took it all in, and performed their work. They added these experiences to their stories from Ohio and Vermont and El Salvador and New York and Indiana and Japan and Ghana. The journey isn’t over. It’s just beginning. It’s marvelous being a part of it!!

- David Eppel

Director, Prof. of Williams College Theater Department, Co-founder of the Market Theater. - Mass MoCA blog


2010 - The Bengsons' "The Proof"
2009 - The Bengsons' "Six Hours"
2008 - Zombie Nationalists' "#1 [EP]"

The albums can be bought on iTunes or via our website:




"Not only a tremendous musical talent, but also a raw honesty and sincere righteousness." The New York Times

"There is just no easy way to describe the experience... It's a little bit of everything and also unlike anything you've seen and heard before. There's no show quite like it... on any stage anywhere"

"The band has to rise to every music journalists list as a must see band soon, because it is unlike anything you have ever seen. Its as fast and furious as a punk show but as creative and clever as an Off-Broadway play." Sal Bono, The Examiner

"Vaudvillian Indie Folk" isn't a term you hear often -- and for good reason. It takes a special measure of skill and restraint to pull it off properly, the kind of balancing act New York husband-and-wife duo The Bengsons manage expertly. Their songs blend rousing, all-join-hands group choruses with spry vocal melodies and rich instrumentation that incorporates everything from banjo to accordion to church organ. Think Andrew Bird, Kathleen Edwards and Florence + The Machine writing the next Arcade Fire record and you're getting close.

The Proof is their most compelling and accomplished work to date. Like their previous outings, The Proof is built around a central story – one that's both profound and profoundly moving. It centers on a young couple faced with the onset of a sudden, terminal illness. With only a year to spend together, they decide to live 12 months as though they were the 60 years, creating a world of rapidly changing seasons and tiny moments of stillness. The group will be touring the album as a proper stage production, boasting state-of-the-art video projection and design by Andrew Lazarow (co-founder of Seattle's Satori Group), and direction by Williams College's David Eppel (co-founder of South Africa's Market Theater).

The critics have been united in their adulation. The New York Times says the Bengsons are, "Not only a tremendous musical talent, but [possess] a raw honesty, a sincere righteousness.” CityBeat raves, "It's a little bit of everything, and unlike anything you've seen or heard." And the Addison Independent calls them "Friendly, fresh-faced and downright enchanting." The Proof is their most ambitious – and rewarding – work yet. - The Press House

General Manager: Allison Prouty

Press Relations:
Dawn Kamerling (The Press House)