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Published: 2002/03/20
by Jesse Jarnow

David Kolker, The Bowery Ballroom, NYC- 3/17

NYC ROLL-TOP: It’s Such A Small World

The Publicist pulled a dirty trick on me: she introduced me to David Kolker
before his St. Patrick's Day set opening for Jason Crosby and Friends at the
Bowery Ballroom. It was a bit, I suppose, like Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect
meeting the meat they are about to consume in Douglas Adams' The
Restaurant at the End of the Universe before it was willfully killed and
prepared. He was an amiable chap, this Kolker fella, and he made
conversation. I learned that he used to date a girl who attended my college.
This certainly put a curious spin on things when he took the stage shortly
thereafter and launched into his urban blues.

I'd been invited down to the show by the Publicist, which is something I'm
not used to, so I was sort of on self-conscious guard for the better part of
the evening, especially during Kolker's set. I can't say that I didn't enjoy
Kolker's performance, or at least have an enjoyable time watching him play,
but I can't say that his music really made a hell of an impression on me
either. It was definitely electric blues, and he sang them with gusto. I
certainly, however, will not deign to call it "gritty", or even "funky". It
was just kind of an all-out blues-rock assault, something akin to (though
certainly as bad as) Blues Hammer, the fictional band in Terry Zwigoff's
Ghost World.

Kolker certainly enjoys what he does, and there's always a charm in that,
but it seemed a little bit much; his voice was over-effected, his
guitar-thrusting was just a little too forced and caricatured to seem
anything more than stylized gestures. Through the whole set, knowing what I
did about the man's love life, it was interesting pinning a place on his
songs. The blues, of course, are largely about rejected love and, not really
knowing any of the specifics of his relationship, I could only picture the
girl he was singing to haunting the same campus where I spent four years. I
imagined him on the phone, long distance, pleading his case and trying to
communicate through static-addled lines and somehow utterly failing to do so
for the same reasons that he failed when he sang. It was a sad story, I
suppose, and that's what blues music is about.

Maybe.

Kolker certainly seemed happy, and he certainly seemed concerned with the
audience's happiness, despite the music's apparent content. The question,
then, is how is blues supposed to affect the listener? How are we
supposed to react to tales of pain and suffering? Do we experience it
vicariously? Or do we use it as a barrier against our own weaknesses? My
guess is that, most of the time, it doesn't even matter: the music is
incidental unless we really surrender to it and it triggers such
individualized and accidental responses that we can't pin anything down,
like what happened to me after I found out about his ex-girlfriend. But, on
the other hand, blues is something of a formal genre in this day and
age, so maybe we are supposed to react in a very specific way. But
maybe it is precisely because it is a standardized form that we are
freed to have any number of other responses.

I may not find David Kolker to be a significant musician, but that doesn't mean
people can't have interesting experiences listening to his music. I sure
did, but I really don't know if that had anything to do with Kolker himself.
His songs weren't that interesting, though a number called "It's Such A Big
World" was kind of neat, and featured a cool little rhythm riff that never
quite landed where I thought it would. It wasn't quite enough to win me
over. It was a pleasant enough thing to be plugged into on a rainy Sunday
evening, though I wasn't necessarily moved by it. It felt like very
run-of-the-mill music. And, like many other evenings at the Bowery, I walked
up to San Loco, got a bite to eat, hopped on the L train, and came home.

Jesse Jarnow is presently enjoying
this rainy Monday.

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