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Sweat and Self-Determination

After having travelled 380 miles and overcome significant obstacles for this opportunity to see David in concert, my friends Mari, Curtis, and I stood at our seats through nearly the entire show to take in every sight and sound we could.

On the stage was David, stomping and sweating, who blazed throughout his entire set with the endurance of an acrobat. The Archustomp—once an occasional occurrence—was now a regular feature of his stage gait.

A couple of times during the set, David wiped the sweat off his neck and brow, flapped his button-down shirt, and exclaimed to the crowd, “Wow! It’s really hot in here!” I would love to report to fans around the world that this was David flirting, but alas I honestly think he was just thinking to himself, “Wow! It’s really hot in here!” And as for the heat, David, I have an idea of what you could do next time.

You could ask the stage hands to lower the thermostat.

David performed his entire set without a break, which, combined with the heat, meant that in a couple of songs during the end that David had a little less energy. Although David was giving it his all, it made me wonder how the breakneck pace of the tour might be affecting him.

It was clear that one of the ways David makes things interesting for himself is to break up the repetition of back-to-back shows by changing things up. This he did, in more ways than one.

As David sang most of the songs from the album, he was taking even more liberties with melody, making soulful, blues- or gospel-like runs as the music stepped back, so that his voice was the sole object of attention. While before he may have dismissed this as immodest, he now stepped front-and-center vocally every time he could. Nearly every blank space of each song was filled with an “mmm,” an “ooh,” or an “o-woh-oh!”

David may as well have said, “Look, I can do these fantastic runs and you can’t.” And of course he’d be right.

“Somebody Out There” had a new arrangement, and some light drums and other instruments kicked in at the chorus and converted it into something like a soft rock ballad. Though it wasn’t my preference, I still liked it, and appreciate that David and his band are changing it up and always doing new things.

Just as David had asserted more control over certain aspects of his career in recent months, his approach to the songs from his first album also reflected this new sense of himself. With every song, he broke from script and raised the notes higher, made a run longer, or changed the phrasing. He was asserting many of the lyrics, imprinting melodies that were written as pop songs with more of his own style and sensibility. It seemed as if his growing insistence on expressing himself informs the growing urgency with which he has been singing as of late. He was declaring his own musical Declaration of Independence—pity upon those who do not brace themselves for what is yet to come.

That Dang Spotlight

As David took his seat at the piano to perform “To Be With You,” David said that he wanted to see the fans seated in the overhead balcony, and they screamed. “Can you turn off the spotlight really quick and turn the lights up so I can see everyone?” The spotlight didn’t go down—instead, the lights in the entire venue went up and everyone screamed: yay, he can see all of us! David said: “I guess I’ll have to run over here then.” He ran stage right, but the dang spotlight followed him.

After the concert, before Mari, Curtis and I could even get through the lobby, my phone vibrated with a tweet from David: “Ugh I can’t stand it when the lights blind me from seeing the audience!” Mr. Spotlight Man: you are the third evil man of the night. Somebody please pass a note.

By the way, isn’t that so genuine and sweet of David to just want to see the fans?

Right afterward, when David took his seat at the piano, the comedy began. Oh no, this was not a pre-planned act. I have no idea what occasioned this exchange, but apparently some fan asked David if he had a relationship or an interest in his bandmate Kendra. David said, “Eww, gross! She’s like a sister to me!” Kendra was standing there ready to play the violin, and broke out laughing.

This was one of many moments when I could hear—although he was several seats down in a noisy theater—my friend Curtis’s hearty laugh: “Ha ha ha ha!” I heard this sound nearly every time David spoke. Curtis, like all of us, is simply charmed by David. David seems to lack any pretense—he talks to us like we are his friends, acts like himself, laughs at himself, and is as much in awe of this entire touring experience as we are.

Curtis is now a veritable fanman, and I will return to TDC with periodic reports on his ODD progress.

Moving On

David the Experimenter gave his fans yet another treat or two on this night. While the night before David had done an entirely-acoustic set, he now performed two new songs for the first time in concert.

“I’ll Be” was as amazing as we knew it would be. I simply love his voice in these ballads, when his honey-dripped voice is not belting. In my opinion, David’s live performances are best when he is doing either one of two things. First, when there is a more organic, acoustic (or at least toned-down) instrumentation, and it is just his voice. He can then relax and express the song. (Another example of this was the sublime way in which he ended “Don’t Let Go.” Sigh…) If Rascal is right in saying that “music is David’s lover,” then music needs a cigarette.

Second, David’s live performing rises to another level when he is powering through a bona fide dance song like “Zero Gravity.” (By the way, I insist that everyone who watches Zero Gravity live must jump with David during the song! Don’t worry how you look, and no one cares! It is just so. much. fun.)) I would love David to go in these two quite-different directions more in the future.

For David’s encore, he sat down at the piano and said he was kind of nervous because he was about to perform a song for the first time. I screamed at this point, and though the pitch of my voice was not as high as those surrounding me, my enthusiasm was just as fierce if not greater. What a privilege we were about to have, to hear him perform a song for the first time! Being a fan of David’s feels like a journey of constant discovery, both for him and for his fans.

David then performed “Desperate.”

Like a master chef who insists on perfecting his recipe before presenting it to the most privileged company, David always seems to make sure that he is fully satisfied with a performance before presenting it to his fans.

What we received had been baked to perfection. He was proficient enough with the song that he could channel his full passion into it. He started with the soft piano intro, and soon pounded those keys and barreled through the vocal, stretching out all of those intense notes. By playing his own piano, he was able to play his two instruments—piano and voice—off of each other. All the dynamics could be his own. I am sure most of you have already seen this performance of “Desperate” on YouTube, but there was a visceral intensity with seeing this song live—the stripped-down piano arrangement, and David singing with full power as if this were still a rock song—that simply cannot be replicated in any medium.

That night, after we had actually stepped out of the lobby, my phone vibrated with a second tweet: “Tonight I sang Desperate for the first time. I think I have finally performed every song off of the album live!” (Actually, David: there are two more. If they ever are ready for showtime, here is one fan who would love to hear them.)

Then David announced his last song, “Angels.” David described it as “sort of the opposite” of what he had just performed—the two songs made a perfect pairing.

He sang “Angels” with a command I had never seen before. Eyes closed, playing those keys confidently and without looking, piano booming. David was pouring all of his vulnerability and yearning into the song, with a cry of suffering tinged with joy. His voice ringed throughout the theater’s towering chamber. The crowd was on its feet, rapt at attention. With the beautiful walls and ceiling, I almost felt as if I was in a church, with people straining their ears to glean what sustenance could be gotten from sound, or from gospel.

Suddenly, everything changed. I lost sight of the theater surrounding me and David. I stopped thinking. I do not recall exactly when in the song it was, but suddenly whatever had stood between my mind and the music melted away. I was defenseless. My eyes welled up, and I was crying. Humbled, I looked around me and wondered: who else around me was feeling the same?

I do not know exactly how or why this happened, but I am thankful it did. Whatever it was that was troubling me, had washed away.

– Ronaldsf