David Usher – Drake Underground

. : : December 3rd, 2010 : : .

I’d been a David Usher fan since the turn of adolescence throughout the entirety of my teenage years.

I was a bit late to the game, jumping on the bandwagon of his chart topping Canadian band, Moist‘s sophomore album, Creature. I fell in love with the band quickly and deeply. For many years, Moist was the only real, consistent competition for my coveted favourite band spot — that for the better part of a decade was held by The Smashing Pumpkins.

Moist’s first album, Silver, was originally an independent release that blew up huge, and was eventually re-released by EMI in Canada. The second album, Creature, saw minimal success stateside, but was a qualified smash hit north of the border. Their third and final album proper, Mercedes Five And Dime, was a critical darling but largely ignored by the masses. Too bad: the album was a brilliant step forward, and perhaps my favourite of the bands output. Seized by band injuries and certainly crestfallen by the disappointing sales figure of the album, Moist went on a hiatus that has, thus far, lasted over a decade and is now largely considered permanent. Unfortunately, I was too young to have the opportunity to see Moist play live, and between you and me, still hold onto a slight glimmer of hope.

David Usher, the band’s Canadian sex symbol front man, struck out on his own with a brilliantly understated debut album, Little Songs (To Fuck To). The album was striking in its beautiful simplicity. He followed it up, however, with Morning Orbit, an album filled with upbeat, major key, radio friendly pop rock that was catchy as hell, but didn’t seem to have the staying power of his previous efforts. I gave the next disc a cursory listen, but it didn’t grab me at all. The rock had dropped, the pop became less catchy, and turned to drab radio-machine ballads that’s great for inoffensive soft rock radio, but dull for an energetic boy in the prime of his youth. His music thus fell out of favour, and although he has released a handful of discs in the interim, I have managed to more or less avoid them.

When I came across news that he would be performing a three-night stand at the tremendously quaint Drake Underground, I was intrigued. It would likely be my last concert at the Drake for the year; I could hardly believe that this venue that I had barely known existed before the spring became such a beloved fixture for me throughout the year. I was hoping this show would be the proverbial feather in the cap, and he would break out enough classics to keep me entertained and ride the wave of nostalgia throughout the evening. The sound guy definitely got where I was coming from: before the set, he pumped several acoustic versions of hits from the 90s over the PA, including Foo Fighters‘ Everlong and Just by Radiohead.

If nothing else, David cannot be accused of not being a charming, alluring and charismatic front man. Once taking the stage, from the very first notes, it was clear he made it his mission to make meaningful eye contact with every person in the room, and stepped to the very edge of the stage to make sure he could reach the stragglers at the very back. At about the half way point through the first set, two ladies in the front row turned their back from the stage to snap a picture of themselves with David performing in the background. David, catching this in his peripherals, jumped in, throwing his free arm around one of the ladies and sticking his head amicably between them. He even jokingly bantered with a couple of the ladies right beside me who, it seemed, stopped realizing just how loud and annoying they were two or three glasses of wine prior. “My friend thinks [guitarist, Jonathan] is quite cute”, one crowed. David, bewildered, whispers under his breath, “Are you serious?” . The inebriated continue to shout in french all night, only amusing themselves and endearing themselves to no one, until appeased by Je Repars, a song sung entirely en francais. But enough about the crowd.

David’s voice, for the most part, sounded great. He struggled ever-so slightly with some of the higher notes, but they were few and far between. The band seemed pretty tight, but the sparse arrangements afforded by usually having only two instruments being played at a time (David was flanked by Jonathan Gallivan on acoustic guitar, and Kevin Young on keys and trumpet) only seemed well-suited to the later songs of the catalogue. Earlier songs, such as Jesus Way My Girl (which is pretty sparse to begin with) sounded forced and needlessly aggressive. My Way Out, energetic on disc, seemed dull by contrast. Alone in the Universe picked up for the second half, perhaps on the back of the renewed energy of the crowd. In fact, for most of the set, the only old song that really worked was the one least likely to; Moist’s ultra hit, grungey rocker (and the only song from the former band’s oeuvre performed), Push was extraordinary.

After which, David and co. really started nailing song after song — but only because they stuck with the original, mostly unmodified arrangements. St. Lawrence River and second encore surprise, F Train were easily set highlights. Comparatively, the newer songs arrangements seemed all-in-all much more natural, and the band seemed at ease playing them. Many of the songs were actually pretty good, such as And So We Run and Sparkle and Shine, but they just don’t seem invite the energy or demand the attention the way the old songs did. All-in-all, it was a nice (albeit uneven) set that, in this configuration, was smart to emphasize a showcase on David’s strong vocals, and feature primarily newer material well-suited for the minimalist set-up.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m a curmudgeonly old fan who can’t let go of the old and fully appreciate the new — but I don’t feel like I was alone in my sentiments. Prone to chatter, laughter and restless shuffling, the crowd never seemed more involved than when the older, bigger guns were brought out. Maybe it’s time to get the old gang back together, David, and give Moist one more go around, for old times sake. Or at least for mine.

01. [intro]
02. Faithless
03. Everyday Things
04. When It Hurts
05. Jesus Was My Girl
06. Sparkle And Shine
07. [banter]
08. The Music
09. Love Will Save The Day
10. [banter]
11. My Way Out
12. Briliant
13. Forestfire > [intermission]
14. Life Of Bees
15. Time of Our Lives
16. [banter]
17. Alone In The Universe
18. [banter]
19. Je Repars
20. [banter]
21. Fall To Pieces*
22. [banter]
23. And So We Run
24. Black Black Heart
25. Push [Moist]
26. [encore / banter]
27. St. Lawrence River
28. Devil By My Side
29. [banter]
30. Hey Kids*
31. [encore / banter]
32. F Train
* With Braxton Hicks (?)

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Alone in the Universe (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Thanks to David Usher and crew, and the Drake Underground.

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