Monday, August 5, 2002

Almost Famous Dave

"I truly like happy music," #46 declares- something that's been verified by a fact checking blue eyed intern. "So many people I know listen to all that sad stuff but it doesn't do much for me. Just depresses me I guess."

The avuncular lead singer of the group Don't Touch Me Dave is drinking a double latte, an indulgence he only partakes in on the weekends. He has his routines, a near neurotic discipline of patterns that almost seems to want to wipe away any notion of spontaneity. His shaved head gives him the appearance of a cross between Michael Stipe and Pat Morita.

"I can play all of Paul McCartney's songs on the piano. That's why I plopped down my seventy bucks to see him," #46 says looking pensive. "Well almost. I'm learning the stuff from his last CD. I can play a version of 'Your Loving Flame' that will knock your knickers off."

It's hours before the ensemble's first public appearance as a semi-official group. There is some dispute how long they have been together and whether or not a previous public appearance actually technically was the debut of Don't Touch Me Dave, who some are dubbing "the biggest thing since Wilco."

But a day before the scheduled performance July 28, 2002, at the Coffee Grounds' (1579 Hamline Ave N, Falcon Heights, MN) first ever "open mike night" Don't Touch Me Dave struggles through a set of Madonna songs. #46 croons his way through "Crazy for You" (which he later almost sheepishly admits is his all time favorite Madonna song), tinkling on his keyboard as if he is an overheated kitty. The others in the group, none of them exactly the kind you would call the following type, seem off in their own worlds. EmmyLou, who #46 calls his "favorite magnet giver, a kind kind soul" is responsible for the band's cryptic name; Need a Rose who serves as the go-go dancer, provides a shifting foundation; Spunky doubles as the group's accountant, counting up the money; the young cool Katrina (who walks on sunshine but is not the one formerly with the Waves) appears to be not all natural.

But there is a persistence to the performance that grows on you. After run throughs of "Vogue," "Secret," and "'Til Death Do Us Part," #46 wanders off to the side and says to an unknown someone that he is pleased. Yet he looks a little befuddled and more than a little tired.

Hours before their scheduled performance Emmylou helps #46 wheel his piano down a wooden platform placed precariously on his cement steps from his home across the street to the all too close venue. For those who believe in signs the ominous clouds above lend an eerie vibe to the struggle of getting the 102-year-old instrument to its anointed spot. But just as they all get inside the rain clouds finally let go, almost mockingly, setting the tone for what is to follow.

It's a dark and stormy night. Some say that there may have even been spottings of sparring flying Asian Carp and snakehead fish swimming on the otherwise sedate St. Paul street.

The group opens with a startling version of "Papa Don't Preach." The banging of the keyboard doesn't quite mesh with the percussive stomping of the rest of the group but #46's most earnest (if not slightly quiet and hoarse) reading of the lyrics refreshingly reassures that this isn't a joke. This is heartfelt and all involved truly mean it. "I'm in trouble deep... I'm in trouble deep... but I've made up my mind... I'm keeping my baby..." The percussive melody segues neatly into a surprise reggae tinged cover of McCartney's most insipid "Pipes of Peace." It's at this point that #46 allows a glimpse of what is behind the facade. "Help me to learn songs of joy instead of burn baby burn..."

Next up is an admirable medley of two Dylan songs, "Never Say Goodbye" and "Shooting Star" that doesn't quite work as #46 can't quite hit the higher notes. Yet the lyrics ring truthfully in the ears of the caffeine jacked audience. "You're beautiful beyond words. More beautiful to me. You could make me cry, never say goodbye..." and "Seen a shooting star tonight, slip away. Tomorrow will be, another day. Guess it's too late to say the things to you that you needed to hear me say..."

The disputed debut of Don't Touch Me Dave comes allegedly from a high school performance provided by #46 while his high school band was visiting an outstate town and as they had arrived too early for the other student body. #46 is said to have walked up to a piano at the center of the stage of the high school auditorium and led the entire ensemble in a lilting version of "Let it Be." "That was haunting," someone apparently told him.

Thus the performance bug had bitten. Don't Touch Me Dave closed with a not to be forgotten version of Brian Wilson's (that other shattered soul) "Caroline No." "Where did your long hair go? Where is the girl I used to know? How could you lose that happy glow?" And just like the second side of the Mekons' Fear and Whiskey, recorded in a one off performance, the sum of it all makes some sense in the end.

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