Last Night: David Karsten Daniels at the Hemlock
(David Karsten Daniels singing "Martha Ann" at SXSW because my photos turned out terrible)
David Karsten Daniels
May 1, 2008
By Jennifer Maerz
Better Than: quiet shows where you have to stand the whole time and listen to someone who's happy about life all the time
David Karsten Daniels just got married. Last week. He told me. Well, he told all of us at the bar last night. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Not that it’s ruining any romantic ideas I had about the Seattle-based songwriter. No, it’s nothing like that. It’s more that I worry it’ll ruin the romantic ideas I have about his music. See when people get married, that usually means they’re happy. Which means they’re gonna be all gushy about someone for a while. Which means maybe they’re gonna forget about writing bitter, weepy, beautiful ballads about what it was like the last time someone left a stinger in you that swelled real bad and refused to come out. I like those kinds of songs, sometimes. I like them when Bon Iver writes them. I like them when Elliott Smith wrote them. I like them when Chad VanGaalen writes them (I especially like them when Chad VanGaalen writes them about accidentally killing himself and his girlfriend because he fell asleep at the wheel. My moods can get creepy like that). And I like them when David Karsten Daniels writes them.
DKD sang one of his stingers at the Hemlock last night. It’s called “We Go Right On,” off my favorite of his albums, Sharp Teeth. It’s about how this couple tears into each other, and then they tear into that wound again, and then, well, they just keep going right on tearing into one another. The song builds slowly, like all of DKD’s tracks. With just him and a drummer on tour, he’s got to build the suspense for as long as he can, you know. So the drummer uses his mic to rub the top of the kit for some quiet white noise effects. DKD punches some keystrokes into the laptop at his feet. And that sadness starts leaking in like a draft, into the room.
DKD evokes it and then he lifts it up, using what my friend Chrissy rightly called “that choirboy voice” of his, a voice that holds on to notes for as long as his memory seems to hold on to old wounds. Wounds that produce such delicate little songs: songs that make the Hemlock crowd sit quietly like birds on a wire along the tables by the wall. Songs that get at that feeling when you’re finally so happy you want to feel just a little bit sad to remember what it felt like once more. Songs that brought one couple to sit cross-legged on the floor, until they decided that was a little too much intimacy for this bald-headed singer who pours so much detail into his lyrics, and so they retreated to the back.
So yeah, I guess DKD can still deliver the aches along with the cheeriness. His set covered some of the rough romantic road he’d hit before he found The One. Her name’s Catherine. I know that because, I hate to say, the song adressing her was the only song in the set I found too sappy, too earnest, too much of the DKD I don’t want to know. It was called, appropriately enough for his new bride, “Marriage Proposal.”