At the Mercury Lounge, Friday, December 19.
Up-and-coming superstars recognize the necessity of a MySpace page; the hard part is customizing one cleverly enough to distinguish it from the countless millions of others. Bay Area singer-songwriter Bart Davenport made an intriguing move in designing his own spot on the sprawling social networking site. Rather than filling in the “sounds like” field with yet another tiresome list of better-known acts, he posted an image of an almost unreal-looking orange sunset over the ocean. But here’s the impressive part: His music actually does sound like that.
On Friday night, Davenport and his three-piece band showcased this particular brand of soft-focus pop at the Mercury Lounge. The sounds created were a sonic throwback to the 1970s’ AM dial that worked by not trying to appear completely untouched by modernity. Something of a throwback himself in an all red outfit (with harshly flared pants) and mop of black hair, the ambiguously aged singer and guitarist gave nods to the string-based folkies and intense soul speak-singers of the 1960s, as well as the Beatlesque Brit-pop that still endures today. The eclectic, but aesthetically decisive vantage point from which Davenport composes his songs is unmistakably modern, as is the good humor with which they’re delivered. But in no way could he be taken as an ironist. Davenport clearly loves what he imitates and, as a result, performs even the most theoretically chintzy material – one band member is tasked primarily with playing the xylophone and tambourine – with an avid appreciation for its roots. Ironically distancing oneself as a listener is almost impossible.
Following a solid block of semi-surf rock from Ventura’s Franklin for Short, Davenport and company served up a set heavy on tracks from Palaces, his newly dropped fourth solo album. They wrapped with a holiday-themed encore, including but not limited to a cover of Paul McCartney’s “A Wonderful Christmastime,” which could hardly be better suited to Davenport’s style. Though his pursuit of nearly forgotten blue-eyed soul must come as surprise to listeners who’ve only been following his career as lead singer of the electronic funk outfit Honeycut, it’s surely a pleasant one. But perhaps the word “pleasant” is misleading, because while what Davenport played never failed to please the ear, the tame connotation certainly doesn’t apply – especially not to tracks like the beamed-from-1970 “A Young One,” the hypnotic neo-folk “Yoshi,” or the slickly catchy “Jon Jon.” The applicable cliche is that they don’t make music like this any more, but of course the cliche is wrong; Bart Davenport makes it, and he makes it with pride.