Surprise Me Mr. Davis Knows What You’re Looking For

April 19th, 2010

Surprise Me Mr. Davis – Mercury Lounge – April 17, 2010

It takes a certain kind of band to fill the late slot, to be the show after the other show, to pick up wherever the first part of your night left off. Surprise Me Mr. Davis, starting on the healthy side of midnight on Saturday at Mercury Lounge, epitomized the late-night band. If you were looking for soulful, drunken sing-alongs, they were your band. If you were looking for heady, jazz-inflected jams, they were your band. If you were looking for raucous, “there are four drummers onstage right now” percussion parties (including Joe Russo of Furthur and Jeremy Black from Apollo Sunshine), they were your band. If you were looking for a full-on variety show—music, magic and more—then they were your band. If you were looking for heartfelt, full-band a cappella moments, lo, Surprise Me Mr. Davis was your band.

The set began with Brad Barr on ukulele and the rest on vocals with frontman Nathan Moore both leading the song and doing magic tricks. Have you ever seen a guy sing and pull one of those quintessential long handkerchief chains from his mouth at the same time? Well, you haven’t let Surprise Me Mr. Davis surprise you yet! But it wasn’t all fun and high jinks Saturday night. Drunken partiers were on the receiving end of some shushing with dirty looks to match as the packed house hung on every lyric and instrumental excursion. With Marco Benevento rounding out the band, adding a loose upright piano to Barr’s guitar, Marc Friedman’s fluid bass playing and Andrew Barr’s superlative drumming, there were plenty of these moments to go around, but never too far and always to the point. For the most part, the band found a nice Bill Withers-esque compromise between acoustic-fronted folk and swinging grooves. The single tambourine that seemed to get passed around to every suit-wearing musician onstage at one point or another best summed up the sound. One thing was certain: This isn’t just a side-project any more. —A. Stein