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[whitespace] Postapocalyptic

Stuart Davis gave a stunning performance in Santa Cruz

By Sarah Quelland

THERE ARE SOME performers who make me sad because their talent is so great, and yet they continue to go unrecognized outside their small circle of devoted followers. Stuart Davis is such an artist. I was first introduced to his music after hearing his fourth album, 1996's Nomen Est Numen, a record full of humor, irony and satire. Kid Mystic (1997), the 16 Nudes live album (1998) and Bright Apocalypse (1999) would follow, each revealing a new facet of the singer/songwriter's multidimensional character and profound musings. His recently released self-titled record is an effective union of both his serious spirituality and his witty lyricism. On the album, Davis strives to "reflect the spectrum of human experience, the shallows and the depths, the inner and the outer, above and below, light and dark."

Last Thursday (May 10), Davis flew in from his home state of Minnesota to perform at the art space 418 Project in downtown Santa Cruz. Davis generally tours without his band, so when he takes the stage this far from home, he's armed only with a set of acoustic guitars. Still, under his adept command, his instrument becomes so powerful it's easy to forget it's just him standing up there.

I keep wondering why Davis continues to play in small cafe venues frequented by folksingers, when his music really doesn't fall easily into that genre. Maybe being difficult to categorize is a liability. He's been known to call his music postapocalyptic punk folk; I might call it intellectual art-rock with pop sensibilities, ironic overtones and spiritual tendencies--but that's quite a mouthful. Maybe just saying he's the Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle) of the acoustic circuit would be more accurate.

In his performance, Davis focused on material from his new album, including personal favorites like "Rock Stars and Models" ("Rock stars need models like babies need bottles/Models need rock stars like cave men need strip bars") and "Immanence" ("Everybody wants to taste a little something carbon-based/Sex is proof the Holy Ghost crawls around in stuff that's gross"). Another highlight of the new recording is the intimidating "Dresden," a sinister song about tourists visiting the city that was firebombed in World War II, on which Davis invites, "Come and soak in Dresden/The heavy calm, the firebombs/It's all here in Dresden/You're always close to something's ghost/ Stop off, tour the holocaust."

Davis also writes beautiful love songs like "Invincible" ("Friend, I am with you when you cry/Closer to your face than the water in your eyes/Cry, those tears become my own/I know that you are homesick/Even though you're home") and "Swim" ("That is why I reach for you so much/I think I'm drowning until we touch/Life is an ocean we fall in/When you hold me I can swim."

I noticed slight musical allusions to the Grateful Dead ("Fault Lines") and Cat Stevens ("Immanence"), but Davis seemed baffled when I asked him if they were deliberate. Another song, the as-of-yet-unrecorded "Windmills and Wheatfields," had a Leonard Cohen vibe, which might also take its writer by surprise. Davis took many requests, including "Stephen's Exhibition" (Nomen Est Numen) and "Fall Awake" (Kid Mystic). "Ladder," "Kid Mystic," "Savoring Samsara," "Jonah," "Swim," "Caravan," "Seven Wonders of the Soul" and "Bright Apocalypse" also made it into a set of at least 20 songs. When I finally left, it was close to midnight, and Davis was gearing up to hop in his rental car and make the long drive to San Diego, where he had a performance the following night.

PLAN AHEAD: Bodies in the Basement and the Phantom Limbs, May 17 at the Lido; Deadweight, Element of Surprise and others, May 17 at the Cactus Club; Vivendo de Pao, May 17 at the Icon Supperclub; Sin in Space at Cayuga Vault in Santa Cruz; P.O.D., May 18 at Paramount's Great America; Left Hand Smoke and the Souvenirs, May 18 at Fuel; Hayride to Hell, Deke Dickerson and the Choptops, May 18 at Brookdale Lodge; Frank Black & the Catholics, May 18-19 at Slim's in San Francisco; Breach, Careworn, Stitch and others, May 19 at the Cactus; God Forbid, Nevermore, Opeth, Angel Dust and Mucus Membrane, May 20 at the Cactus; Xiu Xiu, Deerhoof and the Contrail, May 20 at Fuel; Peeled Back, Stuk and others, May 20 at the Gaslighter Theater in Campbell; Triplex, May 24 at the Usual; Spinal Tap, June 10 at the Warfield.

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From the May 17-23, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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