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Surprise Me Mr. Davis / The Slip, The Independent, San Francisco- 11/18

A quick, last minute decision to go see Surprise Me Mr. Davis and The Slip at the Independent could be one of the better choices I’ve made in my short lifetime. Having only brief encounters with both of these bands at High Sierra ’05, I had little expectations. The Slip brought along their songwriting buddy, Nathan Moore, for this brief west coast tour and their stop at the Independent featured a set by both faces, Surprise Me Mr. Davis (which is The Slip + Nathan Moore) and The Slip. With the ingredients for a memorable evening in place, I was prepared for anything on this fall evening in San Francisco.

The versatility of these musicians was showcased in the Surprise Me Mr. Davis set. Nathan Moore’s songwriting is superb and was well received by the captivated audience. The insightful words and folksy style were part of his passionate delivery. He’s quite the performer as well, acting out humorous carnival antics during an excellent “I Am A Rubber Ball.” This song beautifully pairs the lyrics with just the right music. Small moments of lyrical genius continually popped up throughout the set. A particular standout was the protest song “Fat King of Gods” with “From the war on this to the war on that / Has spun the frayed fabric of our modern day blues / Born in a rental and pried from our neighbor / And our fears and our frights are labeled by hues.” I’m not sure how receptive the audience was with the bands attempt to bring back slow dancing with “If I Didn’t Love You.” Regardless, it was well played and a testament to the band’s range. SMMD performed an inspired set with extraordinary lyrics to open for “their favorite band ever.”

The Slip took the stage before an eager crowd and delivered a wonderful set. Their music was overflowing with energy and style. Each song is a dynamic work in progress right before your eyes, with each member attentively listening to the others and responding with confidence. No single member overpowers the others. Their sound is refined; it’s clear that they’ve spent countless hours practicing. It’s refreshing to hear a band that is so on and connected with each other during the jams. They opened with an instrumental intro that slid nicely into “Even Rats.” Andrew Barr on drums was pounding away so hard for the entire evening with remarkable rhythms and fills, showing a wide range of influences. I was quite impressed with his performance. Bassist Marc Friedman added a compelling depth to the music that was both lively and mesmerizing.

Highlights from the evening were “Wolof” followed by “Paper Birds” that had the audience groovin’ on the dance floor and entranced with their style. Not to be outdone by their songwriting friend, Nathan Moore, Brad Barr delivered some contemplative lyrics in The Slip’s set, as seen in “Children of December.” This was a fun song with a tight jam. Brad’s skillful guitar work was able to finely weave together Marc’s bass lines and Andrew’s intense drums to complete The Slip. A jollier Nathan Moore returned for the encore of “Dying Man’s Diamond” and “The Last One.” I left this fine performance by Surprise Me Mr. Davis and The Slip wanting more.

There’s something about the Slip’s sound that keeps you attentive. It attracts you with its familiarity. It pulls you in, as if you’ve heard it before. Once they have you dancing all over, they begin to jam and become something so expressive and original that you find a big grin across your face. You’re smiling because you know that these three spectacular musicians have found that illusive ingredient of live music: chemistry. They’ve taken advantage of this chemistry to produce some excellent music rich with style and varying melodies. This evening at the Independent just reaffirmed my belief that live music is like a lifeblood for me, vital for my well-being, giving me what it takes to continue on until the next time I find myself at a box office.

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