Words by: Kyle Weingart
Surprise Me Mr. Davis/Land of Talk :: 11.21.09 :: Mercury Lounge :: New York, NY
It's 10:30 p.m. on Saturday night and outside the classic venue Mercury Lounge in Manhattan's Lower East Side the energy is starting to build. Crowds of smokers are straddling the curb watching the city chic walk by on their way to barstools, dance floors, and comedy clubs while preparing for the sold out Surprise Me Mr. Davis/Land of Talk show that is set to begin at 10:45. Inside, the narrow front bar is packed and the intimate stage in the back room is starting to fill up to capacity. Among the crowd is Surprise Me Mr. Davis (SMMD) guitarist and vocalist Brad Barr talking to a friend before hitting the stage. For those that don't know, SMMD consists of folk troubadour Nathan Moore (vocals, guitar), Slip members Brad Barr, Marc Friedman (bass) and Andrew Barr (drums and percussion), and Marco Benevento (piano). Sadly, Benevento will not be playing with SMMD tonight because he is in Austin, Texas playing The Parish with Garage A Trois.
|Surprise Me Mr. Davis by John Chapman|
At 10:45 sharp the band takes the stage wearing crisp suits and their Sunday finest. The three members of The Slip gather around a microphone and begin harmonizing while Moore begins a beautiful rendition of his song "Tombstone" that Brad Barr accompanies with a ukulele. After a couple of mellow songs, including the poetic "Summer of My Fall," the band breaks into the upbeat "I'm No Good At All," which sounds like something The Bowery Boys would listen to while getting into a barroom brawl. This really gets the crowd moving, especially when Brad and Nathan begin rubbing their guitars together and working the audience. Riding this wave of energy the set continues with a soulful "When a Woman" and a classic "I Hate Love."
Next, the band slides into '50s R&B mode with "That's the Way" and then a little protest funk with "Sissyfus." At this point, Moore shows off his magic tricks with a little sleight of hand while dancing around the stage to the rhythm of the beat while the crowd watches in amazement. The set slows down with the heart wrenching "Joelle" featuring some impressive guitar work that wins over some new fans in the audience. At this point Brad mentions that a few of the new songs they have been playing can be found on their new demo that can be purchased at the merch table (you can also hear some of these songs on the band's website). However, he laments that they only have four to sell. The hour-long set finishes off much as it began with the a cappella "As the Crow Flies," which once again showcases the amazing vocals of Brad Barr and extraordinary range of the band. Though a great set, SMMD seemed hesitant to relinquish the stage just as they were about to really explode.
|B. Barr & Moore by John Chapman|
After witnessing this performance it's easy to say that the music of Surprise Me Mr. Davis defies categorization. From tender ballads to thrilling funk to classic R&B, the band traveled in and out of several genres while effortlessly maintaining the groove, which is no surprise considering the band's pedigree. In fact, the only surprise is that they are still playing shows at small intimate venues like the Mercury Lounge. As Moore said at the end of the show, "We have big things planned for 2010. We will be back with Marco Benevento." I for one will be there.
After a short set break Canada's Land of Talk takes the stage a little after midnight to about the same size audience as SMMD. Frontwoman Elizabeth Powell (vocals, guitar) grabs the mic and exclaims, "We're happy to be here," before ripping into "Corner Phone" and a high-energy, uptempo set propelled by the rhythm section and her beautiful voice. Staying behind the drum kit is SMMD's Andrew Barr joined on bass by Joe Yarmush on some songs and Michael Felber on others.
Throughout the set Powell pounds out notes on her guitar while she gleefully jumps around the stage and grins knowingly at both Andrew and Yarmush when things really click. After having vocal problems over the past year, she is happy to be back in the thick of it, though she is a bit more modest about using the full power of her vocal range. The set includes tunes from Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, Some are Lakes, and the new EP, Fun and Laughter. Highlights included "Gimme Back My Heart Attack," "Some are Lakes," and "It's Okay." The combination of Land of Talk and Mr. Davis proved a potent double-bill, and one could only sit in awe of Andrew Barr as he double dipped. Throw Benevento into the mix and we'd have one hell of a tour... 2010 is calling.
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