He started off the show with a recognizable tune, “Tear It Down,” from his 2003 release, Afterthoughts. Allegorical in nature, the lyrics draw you into the story of building a house and its potential destruction, and then unconsciously you find yourself thinking about the deeper meaning of clinging to something materialistic and defending it, and then giving in with an “Eh? Go ahead, take it, I don’t need it anyway.” This type of musing, contradicting, realizing, and reflecting on the ways of the world is a theme of sorts in Desmelik’s songwriting. In the song “Lucky Day,” off his more recent 2010 release, Onlooker, the opening lines talk about how he and his wife both work hard and are tired, but then it morphs into a daydream about what they would do if they didn’t have to work, where they would go how they would spend their time. Listening to Desmelik perform his songs feels like skimming someone’s journal entries: a chronicle of experiences, passing thoughts and reactions to life.
Desmelik can be found playing around town frequently in various configurations. His full band, The HillBilly Cadavers, puts on a fairly rocking alt-country show. He also performs solo at venues like The Lobster Trap and French Broad Chocolate Lounge, can be found occasionally at songwriter-in-the-round events, and with a duo or trio at other regional restaurants and coffeehouses. For Desmelik’s French Broad Brewery show, he was joined by local musician Josh Gibbs on the lap steel.
Gibbs owns Swamp Horse Records and Rockwood Studios/Creative Retreat. His name can be found in the liner notes (as a musician or producer) of many local band’s CD projects. With Desmelik leading the way on acoustic guitar and vocals, Gibbs spruced up the chords with some licks and ambient sounds, taking an occasional lead solo. Desmelik tended to punctuate his playing with brief half-beat pauses in his guitar rhythms creating a moment of suspense before picking the downbeat back up. The small, but attentive happy hour crowd seemed to enjoy the set, responding with mellow enthusiasm.
In his decade-plus career as a musician, Desmelik has surely had his vocal style compared to Jay Farrar of Uncle Tupelo and SunVolt fame. With a very similar, lazy-ish vocal style encompassing that alt-country twang, Desmelik slides around and experiments with phrasing, but not so much so that you are distracted by it, instead it enhances the song, allowing the listener plenty of time to spend contemplating their place in this world.
Dave Desmelik returns to the French Broad Brewery on Friday, Jul. 15. Learn more at davedesmelik.com.