During The Davids’ happy-hour set at the French Broad Brewery, mastermind David Clegg announces that the band isn’t really in its element. This is scary, because even sandwiched between the copper kegs and playing to a crowd of the work-weary, The Davids are a gale force. An alcohol and angst-fueled trio of heartbreak, irony and the talent to back every whimper, howl and bent note.
“You’re so wishy-washy, you’re so deceitful, you’re so unreliable, but you’re so beautiful,” Clegg sings in “Wishy Washy,” a crisp garage rocker with roots in the ‘60s blues-rock of Canned Heat and the ‘70s power-pop of Big Star. The Davids, with their razor’s edge finishes, their stop-on-a-dime time changes and engaging stage antics, are a study in diametrical opposition. Controlled chaos. Good-humored rancor. Bookish punk.
The band launches into a cover of Peter Rowan’s “Panama Red,” re-envisioning the pro-cannabis bluegrass hit as a snarling, menacing, bass-driven tour de force. The group also pulls off reggae grooves and harmonica licks with equal aplomb, but where they seem most at home is on Clegg’s intricately layered original material.
The shining moment of the show (and it’s a solid set) is the song “Basketball,” an ode to the sport which Clegg reveals is the only reason he ever leaves his house during daylight hours. The swampy, grunge-blues references to dribbling the ball sound overtly sexual, though as I ponder how one relates to the other, the band transitions seamlessly into “I Was In Love With You But You’re Dead,” a new song not included in The Davids’ recently released album, Boom Boom Boom Da Da Da. The song extends to at least 10 minutes, an epic composition in which Clegg bends the neck of his battered, duct-taped guitar like it has a tremolo arm (it doesn’t). The guitar is ragged, but it works.
Percussionist Nicky Raabe appears too young to sprout facial hair, yet dominates the drum kit with precision and tastefulness beyond his years. Bassist Phil Kegley swings his hair in his face, leaves his shirt unbuttoned, sends his mini-skirted groupie to fetch his beer and rocks at least as hard as Woody Wood. Talent, songwriting chops and stage presence: Absolutely. But it’s the sheer commitment that makes this band so believable.
“I Was In Love With You But You’re Dead” comes to a crashing finish. There’s a false ending and then a bracing finality. “That was a love song,” Clegg informs the crowd. From behind thick-framed glasses and sweat beads he’s shy: a guy wronged by his junior-high sweetheart and never fully recovered. Or maybe he’s just a convincing actor (though I find myself wanting to believe that Clegg wears his heart on his sleeve).
There is a certain smirk to all that Clegg touches. The band’s MySpace.com site as well as their CD double as campaign headquarters for their apparent presidential bid. “The Davids dislike war and are strong on defense,” we’re told. “The Davids support education, desegregation, proper punctuation and good pronunciation … Freedom is the right of every man, regardless of race, sex, or bad taste in music.” Obama himself struggles to speak more inspired words, and the Democratic presumptive nominee certainly lags in cover art (that on The Davids’ album is by Norwegian painter Katrine Kallekov). But The Davids, unlike Obama, are also making a bid to write the Yoo-hoo theme song. Clegg, it seems, doesn’t take himself too seriously. Or seriously at all.
Still—or perhaps because of this—The Davids are among the most exciting live acts to grace an Asheville stage in some time. And they weren’t even in their element.
The Davids play The Rocket Club on Thursday, Aug. 21, at 9 p.m. and Fred’s Speakeasy on Saturday, Aug. 23, at 8 p.m.