Words by Reanna Feinberg :: Images by Zach Ehlert
Surprise Me Mr. Davis :: 11.16.05 :: Mobius :: Ashland, OR
Surprise Me Mr. Davis explores the depths of unhinged sounds and rhythms without bedtimes. Curing the world of hiccups one audience at a time, they offer remedy to an invisible ailment plaguing the nation. We need brave souls willing to tour the country, snapping people back to a steady breath where days can still be mapped by directions of the breeze and flight patterns of hawks, until this epidemic of silent hiccups, gasping for the familiar, begins to subside. This is a much larger endeavor than I'd anticipated when I showed up at the Mobius to hear these fine musicians move my body across the floor. I do it so often, I'm forgetting how it's done and could use some freshly inspired ideas.
Surprise Me Mr. Davis :: 11.16 :: Oregon
The band is a compilation of The Slip (Brad Barr on guitars, Andrew Barr on drums, and Marc Friedman on bass) with Nathan Moore on guitar and poetic ramble. They all harmonize their voices into the Mobius, but Nathan and Brad lead most often. It's difficult to see them as individual musicians since they play as such a cohesive musical toy machine. Some songs are simply beautiful. Others are upbeat flowing folk-rock, softly exposed lyrical truths, straight rock n' roll, old time musical backdrops for twist contests on cruise ship platforms, or a train wreck out of control and smiling.
Starting the evening slowly, each man plucks a single sound from predominantly peculiar instruments. They play poetry in the very act of patience, dipped in creativity like the chocolate coating on soft-serve ice cream, finding new ways to present music to our hard-scooped Baskin Robbins-trained ears. Nathan tips a "mooing" toy tube, Brad plucks a rubber band on a can, Marc plays his bass with a silver, conical, staff-like shaker, and Andrew teases single notes from his set of percussion cohorts.
Nathan Moore :: Surprise Me Mr. Davis
11.16 :: Oregon
It's the equivalent of a circus painted entirely in sounds swirling against the walls of the Mobius — rippling like a fat man's belly with intense indigestion from musical ticklings. Nathan elaborates the full spectacle entertainment by engaging two kids from the audience in a magic trick, managing to make a glass of water disappear, and the rest of the music-goers turn into children in the same stroke. Brad and Nathan wrestle in a battle of the breath, seeing who can hold the longest note (Brad's been working out at the gym and so clobbered Nathan... even in the re-match). And all this in just the first ten minutes!
The men on strings gather around Andrew on the skins like a magical society of musicians mixing experimental sounds into a cauldron, each throwing in their own ingredients. The ever-present rhythmic tongue of the drums and bass paint lyrics through heartbeats where I understand them without cliff notes, and the guitars follow in experimentation. The music builds in eerie explosions, and I want to tear the flesh from my fingertips and throw it to the ground like spider webs in my hair.
Their music is in everything, monitored chaos from a solid base, no sound in the blue room exempt. It's a creative blend of vibrations between silence, rolling percussion thunder, sunshine electric rifts, and deep waves of bass painting the soundtrack for a convertible desert road trip across canyon rims. I can feel the summer breeze whip my flesh, exposed to this raw creative game of sounds without sunscreen or protective lotion.
Brad Barr :: Surprise Me Mr. Davis
11.16 :: Oregon
The music takes hold, pulling limbs, swiveling me across the floor, extending my arms to sweep waves from my path. I press it between my palms; rhythms sandwich between my flesh and spread like jelly over peanut butter. What the hell was that!? I nearly kicked myself in the ass. I thought I had this under control. Their music has me on strings, and this puppeteer is a comedian. My legs sweep the air, shimmying and kicking in a guttural explosion, waxing my feet across the floors. It's musical bedlam. The seductive solid rhythms, passionate energy, and intriguing poetic banter make it easy to forget the music's roots are in experimentation, finding an edge and starting from there. It all seems normal, cool, and flowing, until a donkey kick shoots out of your knee and you realize this is no weekend drive in the desert. I've hitched a ride with estranged carnies trekking back to the forest with a can of maple syrup, bio-diesel, some organic Vaseline, a couple of monkeys, and a good idea. No wonder the drummer's wearing goggles.
They play kazoos, a guitar that Fights Terrorism, a child's telephone toy, and a joystick with a plastic doll head affixed atop with a single glowing green eye. Red balls hatch from Nathan's mouth during "Rubber Ball," though it's difficult to turn my attention away from the full throttle percussion orgasm channeled through Andrew's limbs into this blue room. Andrew then tops himself by delicately playing the drums with his drumsticks clasped firmly between his toes (no great feat of musical prowess, but certainly surprising enough to obliterate at least three cases of philosophical hiccups in the room).
Moore & Barr :: Surprise Me Mr. Davis
11.16 :: Oregon
All the while, Brad plays his electric and slide guitars with as many toys as he can get a hold of, and quite often his hands, moving so fast, blurring across the guitar, erasing scenery of lines as they paint the room in music. And with the greatest compliment I can offer a bassist, I barely notice Marc, threading deep torrents of waves around this sound, flushing and sprinkling the earth's beating pulse into the music.
Breaking from intense rock jams, they play a sweet, tortured, love lullaby. Their eyes are all closed. Is there some secret here? I close my eyes too, and the music is sweeter. It drifts through my body like a falling rose petal, then bursts into a musical version of sleep. The burst doesn't rattle like an alarm clock, but instead captures that moment when sleep tips the scales to dreams and consciousness closes its minds to the things behind the curtain.
Nathan's versatile voice takes us into dark, eerie tunnels, ghoulish and prowling, then into country drawls, expanding notes through the ether of sound and into sweet ecstasy. Standing at the front of the stage, guitar hanging at his side, he sings, "Back in Fifteen Minutes," vulnerably, fully exposed, like he may draw back at any moment and break into that playful Mardi Gras persona, but he doesn't. It's surprising.
Surprise Me Mr. Davis :: 11.16 :: Oregon
Andrew plays the drum set with his hands for the song, cupping the drumheads' slow vibration in his palms, and letting them seep into the room, gently, through his fingers. Firing the middleman and shaking sounds loose directly, no chaperone, full contact music, raw and filled with the immense power of intimacy.
Blue streamers shoot out over the audience during the encore. It may as well have been water from a sprinkler on the first hot day of summer. I bathe in this music, warm and floating in playful waves of blue, imagining itself as song.
Leaving the resounding walls of the Mobius, housing this evening's poetic rock explosion, the feel of music clothes my every move. It's in everything: the hum of water heaters and street lamps, the chill vibration of the full moon. So I take it for a walk, on my flesh like blue feathers, and wonder how many preconceived notions and expectations they'll slaughter at the next show.
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