Scenes from a German Rant 

Wherein wimpy white guys with guitars compete with sports-bar acoustics.

And then the ordinarily goofy and placid Bart Davenport loses his shit for a second. "SHUT UP," he barks.

A crowded, boisterous German restaurant is abruptly silenced. He pauses to assess the situation for a fifteen-second interval, his face reverting back to its childlike gape, his eyes wide with wonder. He has fascinating hair. (He must go to Nedelle's barber.) He looks like a Monkee.

"SHUT THE FUCK UP," he adds. "It's an acoustic show."

Bart has a point here. The Thursday night crowd at Speisekammer, Alameda's preeminent (read: sole) German restaurant, has ostensibly gathered for an evening of coyly quiet (read: twee) indie pop, a genre not renowned for its volume.

And Speisekammer, while lovely, is not renowned as a concert venue -- it has no stage, so the performers are literally backed into a corner. Those not in the first three rows of standing patrons have a hell of a time seeing anything, which compels them to lose interest and strike up conversations at sports-bar volume and intensity, at which point everyone has a hell of a time hearing anything.

These people needed to shut the fuck up. And now they have, and now Bart can sing softly about the saddest day of his life.

In the Wimpy White Guys with Guitars pantheon, Bart Davenport is a good egg, sunny side way up. He strums his guitar and croons like a man trapped in the wrong decade (preferably the '70s), if not on the wrong continent (Europe). He offers not gritty confessionals or cathartic emo-bitchin', but classic makeout music that flaunts his eerie ability to mimic various singer-songwriters of yore: "Into Music," the most arresting tune on his third solo album, Maroon Cocoon, channels James Taylor to an absolutely terrifying degree.

His lyrics, to put it mildly, tend toward optimism. Here's Bart on race relations:

A closet bigot stepped outside today

Went strolling down Martin Luther King Jr. Way

His mind was blown by rainbow-colored laughter

Abandoning his hate forever after

He still calls it Grove Street anyway

This is not the sort of gentleman predisposed to shouting SHUT THE FUCK UP in a crowded German restaurant. But the yakking masses had already drowned out two opening acts, one to its detriment, one to its credit. The dueling Moore Brothers deserved better -- their double helix harmonies and corny dance moves are always worthy of full attention. That Go with the light tune is a monster, and dedicating "Now Is the Time for Love" to ailing Subtle keyboardist Dax Pierson -- to whom this whole evening is, in fact, dedicated (see page 60) -- is a splendid touch.

Too bad you were too busy looking cool, ye chattering philistines, although your rowdy behavior during Call and Response was far less objectionable: Oy. This second act was too smug, too light, too indistinct, and too prone to flubbing the bassline. And if the din obliterated all attempts at stage banter, yawning between their own songs got the point across just as effectively.

Bart fared far better. "Clara" illustrates how disinterested he is in projecting "cool," with its Clara/I love you/Clara chorus buttressed by robust la la la la las, myriad Wow, dude, I'm onstage facial expressions, and kitschy arena rock poses. All at once, it hits you whom this guy is slowly morphing into: Jonathan Richman. (Coming soon to a lesbian bar near you.) The Moore Brothers hopped back onstage for a three-man sing-along finale, commanding the crowd for the first time that night.

The planned headliner for this hoedown was the Kings of Convenience, a hushed Norwegian folk duo well acquainted with the sounds of silence. But some last-minute drama knocked one King from the bill, leaving Erlend Øye to fend for himself. Erlend looks as if he has been asleep behind Speisekammer's bar since 5:30. He has fascinating hair. (He must go to Napoleon Dynamite's barber.) He looks as if he has been recently attacked by monkeys.

Erlend does not project the image of an arresting performer, let alone one with a Pitchfork-praised dance-music double life thanks to last year's DJ Kicks album. And he struggles for quite a while here, plinking his acoustic guitar and cooing (occasionally in Norwegian) to a respectful silence borne more of Bart's outburst than Erlend's stage presence. He slips behind the venue's white baby grand piano, candles flickering gently, but though he yoinks the chorus of Pavement's "Range Life" as a crowd-pleasing gesture, that doesn't really work either. He is endearing, but far from enrapturing.

For just one song -- his last -- he bowls a perfect game. He dedicates the Kings tune "Stay Out of Trouble" to Dax as well, and his goodwill earns him instant karma. The suddenly-perked-up crowd eagerly whistles the viola line. Erlend, an ordinarily stand-and-deliver deadpan guy, starts strutting around a bit, Bart-style. And a joyous campfire sing-along lifts up the chorus: Stay out of trouble/Stay in touch/Try not to think about me too much.

It sails along a cappella for a few minutes, Bart providing harmony from the back of the room, Erlend adding a few ad lib James Brown shouts. The tune merrily dissolves, the DJ throws on Bonnie "Prince" Billy's "Just to See My Holly Home," and all showgoers evacuate the premises, strolling past a nearby upholstery shop with a homemade sign in the window announcing "Closed due to injury."

In the deep Alameda night, rainbow-colored laughter is faintly audible. If you can't hear it, shut the fuck up.


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