Monday, January 16, 2006

Show Review: Surprise Me, Mr. Davis ft. The Slip and Nathan Moore: Self-Referencial Troubadours, Telling Music's Story

In the dimly lit enclaves at the entranceway to The Knitting Factory, amongst a waiting line, a young woman in a flowing unrestricting beige dress and hastily tied brown hair approaches two punk rock dudes. Their tight jeans and ink-black-dyed choppy hairstyles speak that they belong to a different show, but the girl isn’t listening. She asks them hopefully which show they’re there to see, and they respond unenthusiastically and unintelligibly. A voice from the line offers “The Slip”. “Yeah,” she responds, “but they’re playing under a different name tonight.”

“The Slip” records and releases many live tracks and albums. Their valuation of the live show environment parallels the freedom of their written and studio recorded works, both of which attract a strong following in the Northeast and beyond. The music has unconventionally long melody phrases, reserved and intuitive amounts of vocals, and a curiosity for obscure sounds, rhythms, filters and textures.

There seems to be vagueness, though, in the definition of the new project fertilized by the jazz-inspired, celestial but rock-solidified trio, “The Slip” with singer/songwriter Nathan Moore, at least for the woman in the beige dress. The collaboration has been playing together for months, recorded a limited edition Ep, and had some pretty decent press coverage regarding their origin and makeup. Perhaps the woman and other listeners don’t care much for names or definitions, an attitude the group might not disagree with. It may be, in fact, the group’s intention, to undertake a vaguely defined, hoodwinking voyage, they call “Surprise Me, Mr. Davis”.

“Surprise Me, Mr. Davis” was finishing a tour, with Nathan Moore, who is responsible for a substantial portion of the songs “Surprise Me Mr. Davis” plays. What’s more, Moore seems to suggest filling the role of a lead singer. At The Knitting Factory Nathan Moore would appear almost sure of his place at stage front and center. His frequent retreats to regroup with the band and the non-obligatory spontaneity of the verses however would let the crowd know in true “Slip” style, that there was no conventional captain of their ship.

The Opening band, a “jam band” called the “Underground Orchestra”, played organized banter led by Carlos Santana tribute-sounding guitar licks. Each short guitar phrase forecasted three additional occurrences in balanced form. Their percussionist expectantly peered into a crowd prompted to ponder his business on the stage, (he was hard to hear and unexciting to watch) until he was audacious enough to reveal his role as the band’s spokesperson between songs. Their five to seven minute journeys denied the possibility that a single instrument could be beautiful by itself. Leaving no instrument alone, "Underground Orchestra" filled the air efficiently but far too cautiously.

“Surprise Me, Mr. Davis”, also referred to as a jam band at times, took the stage like a breath of fresh air. The quartet immediately acknowledged their individual intuitions in the opening number, clapping their hands and singing harmonies without the intrusion of instruments. Nevertheless, they did jam, meant in the successfully integrated and exciting definition of the word, rather than the classification.

“Surprise Me, Mr. Davis” navigated the trusty Knitting Factory show through abrupt rhythm patterns and barreling jovial numbers, stopping to entertain with magic tricks and anecdotes. “Whenever we stop surprising each other, then the music is dead.” Moore explained after the show.

The informal environment created by the unfilled, spacious room and Nathan’s humble stories of life on the road did not dissuade those in the front from dancing and swaying to energetic and somber songs alike. In response to the instrumentation’s troubadour-tale saunter personification of the title “Rubber Ball”, two young women in the audience held hands, trapping a man between them who bounced off their arms as a perimeter, towards and away from the stage.

“Surprise Me, Mr. Davis” got comfortable and told their story on stage, refusing to patronize the status quo-savvy or genre-loyal elitists. Moore and guitarist/vocalist Brad Barr doubled vocal melodies, accepting the fact that their voices would not hit the exact same frequencies, rejecting a uniform and polished sound. Drummer Andrew Barr spawned a 20-measure rhythm intro while the strings tuned, and Brad on guitar took rejuvenating sips of his amp-resting beverage mid-song because hey, that’s what a lead guitarist is good for. He rested his guitar slide on the strings like a pro-figure skater on ice, gracefully in control. Also with the intuition to make some rhythm, Moore patted his un-amplified leg while he sang ‘cause Barr had the rhythm covered, using maracas and tambourines on his kit. “Ahhhhhhh, ha ha ha ha ha.” Moore laughed to the beat.
At times it appeared “Surprise Me, Mr. Davis”’ originality resided too much on its imperfection though, and it was obvious by the audience’s response to the one “Slip” song played that they longed for the trio’s work. “Surprise Me, Mr. Davis” at times too heavily resembled Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and other sounds from those eras, a resemblance hidden on the Ep mostly by modern “big” sounding drums and other arrangements. Molasses slow blues progressions and quirky “doo-bee-doo” vocal harmonies sounded almost satirical of the artists who championed those sounds such as American blues artists and “The Doobie Brothers” respectively. “The Slip”’s songs, in contrast, are some of the most well contemplated clairvoyant and free in popular music. The rhythms change like a patch of wind in response to a new low-pressure zone, fresh but domestic. The ambiance is surreal. When Moore started telling stories about living in his car, the woman in the beige dress might have considered the possibility that “The Slip” picked him up off the side of the road. Her smile in the audience showed that she didn’t care.

“The Slip” appears to have been more concerned with collaborating with a friend than a musician, a combination bearing more than just musical notes. Nathan proclaimed that he was honored to play with them and they reciprocated by carrying him to the stage for the encore. “Surprise Me, Mr. Davis” has a story to tell, which is more than many contemporary artists can say for themselves. They exemplify the classic meaning of a touring band, self-referential troubadours telling music’s story, asking the listener for commitment neither to trend or genre, but for open eyes and ears.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Possibilitees

This is my first demo. It was produced as a favor/ Loyola Marymount charity project by a producer (credits: Hillary Duff, Hush...) in Malibu.

Click Here or the picture to hear the song.


This song represents to me, literally, humanity's tragic flaw, in that we are limited to life and death. However, I believe in the sublime, that we can catch glimpses of infinity, the sublime in life and art, and the combination of these two realizations equals catharsis, awe and humility.