Dave's True Story: Pink Belts and Madmen, Glitter and Wine
(and, the Speckled Tale of Saint Low and the Plumage of Sorrow)
Dave's True Story: Poetry in Emotion
Dateline: CB's Gallery, The East Village, New York City. Right away you can tell this isn't the beach. The lack of sand is a dead giveaway; there are no waves to speak of, no one's wearing a bathing suit, and the telltale absence of volleyball clinches it. There isn't a Hampton or a grill in sight. We're here tonight in the periodic AC with Dave's True Story, leaving the midweek summer ennui out on the gritty, sticky, city streets. I should note that Dave's True Story does not have a song about leaving midweek summer ennui out on the gritty, sticky, city streets. But that's about the only thing the band hasn't stocked in its breezy, intriguing lounge-y larder.
What we do have tonight is a finger-snapping story of a marriage-shy Asian Jewish Don Juan ("Won Gon Ju." Say it out loud). A flatly factual bitter meditation on an adulterous partner asleep next to the knowing spouse ("Like A Rock"). A tough-guy tender-guy splat about girls and how you can't live with 'em and can't ... well, you know ("Chicks"). A florid exploration of amour in this Modern Age of technology and perversity ("Sex Without Bodies), partnered with a teasing ditty about what those bodies do when you do have sex with them ("Spasm"). And more, from the sweet to the outrageous and back again, deftly delivered with solid stride in a jazz-meets-pop-and-eats-itself style, crushing unabashed torch-song sentiment into the crowded booth where the Swing Party has enjoyed its meal and is now on one last last round of drinks. At a very nice restaurant, where the martinis are constructed with flair.
David Cantor: The Man with the Golden Pen
Chicks -- crazy about these chicks
Chicks -- crazy without these chicks
Wanna kiss 'em
Wanna clock 'em
Wanna take 'em home
And defrock 'em
- from Chicks
Dave to be Different: Can a blatantly-literate hooky jazz-pop act with a developed sense of irony survive in a world that takes swing bands as a passing novelty and accepts "ironic" as a figment of Alanis Morissette's sex life? Happily, yes. And it hasn't been easy. Dave's True Story has been tilting at the windmills for eight years now, and has three excellent albums out to date. They've grown from giggly oddball local winners into artists with a fledgling national fan base and an infectious articulate grace. Of late, after an acrimonious split with their label, Chesky Records -- about which the less said here the better, perhaps -- the band is all dressed up with everyplace to go, realizing as the clock ticks over that the car they've called isn't going to show: this isn't new or unique in music circles, but the Whole Long (True) Story has visibly harrowed the group over the past year (their newest record, "Unauthorized," was ultimately released without the band's endorsement. It's a long and sorrowful tale). Last summer Dave's True Story was primed to take the world by storm, busting out all over with the sly just-you-wait sparkle that comes of winning a long game against impossible odds. This year the sails have deflated a bit. They're still getting to the church on time, but the carefully-planned outing now involves some late scrambling and a hurried hunt for a parking space.
And your correspondent is ready to ride with them over all the bumps their road can cough up. Mr. Cyrano first saw Dave's True Story some five years ago, when songwriter and guitarist Dave Cantor and singer Kelly Flint were performing around town as a duo with occasional session players. Instantly charmed by "I'll Never Read Trollope Again," a highbrow lost-love regret ("Armed with Trollope and a cup or two / I could while the day away / Now just a dollop / Makes me think of you / And that's too high a price to pay"), I followed them religiously from the top-notch nightclub The Bottom Line to the cheery scatter of Stanton Street's tiny bustling The Living Room, from their exuberant live guest appearance on Vin Scelsa's vaunted Sunday night WNEW-FM non-format radio show, Idiot's Delight, to their smoky second-album CD release party at The Fez. And the many points between -- and there have been many.
Sister Kelly Flint Explains It All to You
Her evening clothes are understated
She thinks Foucault is overrated
She says she has big plans for me
Leave a light on for Misery
- from Misery
With a stewpot of influences that simmers Steely Dan in the same soup as Joni Mitchell and Lulu, a musical vibe that recalls the standards of an age of speakeasies and flappers, a deep wardrobe that shuffles chintz, cheek, and charmeuse, cunning lyrics which catpad in and have their feet up on the coffeetable before you realize what they're about (waitaminnit ... you mean he killed all her lovers?), a sound that mourns as fluidly as it does the mambo, and a handful of inevitable comparisons to the great bygone lyricists like Cole Porter, Dave's True Story is hard to abstract. (Uh, it's like Cowboy Junkies meets Jerome Kern with the Subway Sect backing. Yeah. That's it. <-- Just kidding.) And frankly the name tags aren't the point here: the band has the avid glitter and wide-eyed drive that make their best sets a royal pleasure no matter what your tastes and preferences. Lines like "It all boils down to the raw protoplasm / 'Cause this ain't the real thing / It's just a spasm" ("Spasm") and "Won Gon Ju / Came by way of Singapore to old New York / He's dined on matzoh ball and Mu Shu pork / He eats his dumplings with a knife and fork" ("Won Gon Ju") make fans fast, and Kelly's cool delivery -- she's one of the handful of singers in town who rates the reflexive flavorful class conferred by her self-chosen title "chanteuse" -- precisely navigates and crafts Dave's layered words and tricky tunes.
Jeff Eyrich: A Man With a Mission
They're shipping beer to Belfast
They're tossing coins to fight the flu
Well, here you are
And so am I
What are we going to do?
- from Kathmandu
Dave's True Story is a band with an Official Cocktail (Kelly's Pink Belt Martini) and, more recently, an Official Fruitcake (getting there is all the fun). Despite the possibly misleading trappings, they are also no novelty act: they are rare stylists in a far too soundalike world. For all of the clever jewels scintillating in Dave's adroit lyrics, the bedrock of emotion is real and instant in their music. Like other favorites covered lately in this column -- The Novellas and Professor and Maryann spring right to mind -- Dave's True Story's songs tell of common despairs, dreams and desires by drawing you into a world of marginal extreme characters. You may not identify with "Ned's Big Dutch Wife," who is Madam to a kinky homespun brothel on the Q.T., but you'll know something about the secret life with its secret urges that murmurs in us all; you may not have acted on the impulses of the serial killer in "Stormy" (we can only hope!), who knocks off all of his girl's admirers, but if you don't recognize the I'll-kill-him instinct then you've lived a happy life indeed. Dave Cantor's songs are peopled with skewed stereotypes and grand-gesture monomaniacs with troubled hearts, drawn in details and telling moments: they are monologs for character actors with dubious characters.
Backed by various drummers, by the ever-mutable nimble ranging bass of producer and manager Jeff Eyrich, and by Dave's plucked-chord jazz guitar, Kelly steps into full-blown character in each song without hesitation. She is by turns vixen and coquette, regretful enabler and poignant lover, betrayed spouse and predatory tippler. Her steady expressive voice, partnered occasionally with Dave's grumbly conversational vocals, is copula to the many colors of an evening with Dave's True Story. This is a band that calls a fedora a "lid" and gets away with it; they like their romance dirty and dry, their past wistful and hazed with absent pain, and their couture good and haute. Don't talk during the set.
* Dave's True Story is performing heavily in New York over the summer, and has landed a Wednesday residency at The Living Room in the month of August. Check their excellent web site for dates, whimsies, lyrics, stories about the songs, and the recipes for Kelly's Pink Belt Martini and Dave's True Fruitcake. Of their three albums Mr. Cyrano's pick is the second, "Sex Without Bodies," although some of his favorite songs are on their debut eponymous. The new "Unauthorized" is, despite its difficult history, simply delightful. Recommended: join their mailing list. Jeff's emails are a total hoot.
Saint Low, Sweet Chariot:
Mary Lorson, Heart and Soul
Sylph-slender, darkly intense and with an unsettled air of otherworldly melancholy, Mary Lorson heads her new band Saint Low with quiet pageantry. No beach around here either. But listening to their music I am drawn always to images of water -- there is a placid depth and constant motion to Saint Low's cool composition that makes thoughts of the seaside inevitable. The wash of tides, the gentle fade from afternoon to the shoreline's night fugue. Mary's spare, powerful writing is almost Chekhovian in its pedestrian simplicity, if a rock band can be called Chekhovian. But consider: in Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull" the unstated sad joke is that seagulls migrate each year from central Russia to the sea, but never make it there because it's too far away. They return after each season without reaching their journey's end, driven by instinct to try again next year, unable to break the pattern of unfulfilled motion. Saint Low's stuff is neither this grim nor this cut and dried -- and "The Seagull" is by and large a comedy, too -- but both are eloquent in their proud displays of the joyous plumage of sorrow, in their appreciation of unplanned motion to mysterious ends.
Mr. Cyrano last caught up with Saint Low in the opening slot for Juliana Hatfield's by-the-numbers show at Bowery Ballroom, and it was a pleasure to watch the band easily step into that big room. Dominated by Mary's unruffled, welcoming vocals and by her chunky spiky guitar work, Saint Low is a five-piece extravaganza filled out with soaring bittersweet violin, voluptuous keyboards (Wurlitzer and Hammond) and exacting rhythms from local ensemble Wingnut. Aggressively moody and comfortably dusky, the band gives ample room to Mary's words: "If everybody lies / Does that become the truth? / You couldn't be that cruel," she sings, honestly wondering if this could be the case. Or: "That is not my name / It belongs to someone else / Some little dreamer who wants to take my place / If you want pretend / You'll find it all around / So it's beginning / So something has to end."
Live at CB's Gallery: Bright Lights, Big City
Who's That Girl?: You may know Mary Lorson better as the singer for Madder Rose, which is still kicking but is on temporary hiatus. Madder Rose enjoyed good celebrity in the mid-90's, and the recent major-label consolidations left them without a contract when all the corporate dust settled. Much of the overt tang in Saint Low's material is directed at the Industry, as in the catchy cautionary "Dreamland." It could be a love song, but it sounds more to these ears like an open letter to a vaguely-named exec at Atlantic, the old Madder Rose label: "You can read it either way / We got screwed or had our day / The bottom line is / I am all you've got now / Silly me / I thought we were a team / I shouldn't have told you I would never leave / 'Cause on the street / How fickle they can be / And you me, we're living in a dreamland." With unusually clear eyes she moves further in, questioning her own part in the charade: "Silly me / Learning how to sing / I should have learned to teach or heal the sick." Maybe so. Mr. Cyrano's glad we've got Saint Low out of the bargain, though -- Atlantic's loss is our greater gain.
Saint Low's new record hits stores on July 18th, and it's a pleasure from beginning to end. It begins with Mary's reassuring cry, "Here I am and here I'll stay," and ends with a ten-minute sprawling guitar- and keyboard-drenched "After the Fall," which may be the band's own little chaotic tipped hat to "Day in the Life." Something will be done soon about Saint Low's web site, they tell me, and in the meantime you can check for their New York City dates on the Home Office Records Gigometer™.
As Mary sez: "There's no such thing as accidents / Except they happen all the time / Remember nothing moves if you don't push it." Hope you enjoyed the fireworks. See you in two.
Pocket Beach Wrap-Up:
Girls sunbathing topless on Long Beach: Just the one.
Trains missed on the way to the beach: Two.
Side of bagel down when it fell out of the bag in the train: Buttered.
Sunscreen left at the apartment?: Yup.
Downpours encountered without umbrella immediately upon getting back to the City: One (a big long one).
Dave's True Story: www.davestruestory.com
Saint Low: www.saintlow.com
There will be a Saint Low Web site here - Real Soon Now.
The Gigometer™: www.web-ho.com/gigs.html
Dave's True Story photos by Pierre Jelenc. Saint Low shots by Linus Gelber. "Walking slow like it's her birthday / Like something was fixed from the start / Made us to want things that nature can't buy / Made us to see in the dark." - last words this week to M. Lorson.
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