Water Street Music Hall was the place to be Sunday, Sept. 16, featuring performances by Rochester-based The Demos, Chicago-based Maps & Atlases and, out of Brooklyn, Jukebox the Ghost.
The Demos played a quick half-hour set which drew comparisons to The Strokes. Lead singer Jason Milton was the highlight as he crooned over the microphone in true Julian Casablancas form.
Jukebox the Ghost ended the night with a set that mixed scattered comedic relief — including something along the lines of “Do nipples make you uncomfortable, Rochester?” — with Jukebox’s unique melodies and keyboard, guitar and drums. They also came back on stage for a three-song encore that the crowd seemed to love. As singer Ben Thornewill put it, they really “milked it for all it’s worth.”
However, it was Maps & Atlases who really stole the show — even though most of the audience didn’t know it. While the energy was at its highest for Jukebox the Ghost, Maps & Atlases blew away the crowd with an unorthodox style and dynamic instrumentation.
Lead singer and guitarist Dave Davison blended his folky yet forceful voice with spider-like fingers that danced up and down the neck of his weathered guitar, frequently giving up strumming in favor of tapping the strings to create an unbelievably unique sound. Guitarist Erin Elders used what appeared to be a synthesizer to introduce songs and occasionally provide extra percussion.
Bassist Shiraz Dada perpetually strutted around the stage, making for an interesting visual juxtaposition with the more reserved Davison. Dada also utilized a huge bass drum for one song and got the crowd clapping along to the beat on several occasions. Finally, drummer Chris Hainey kept up the pace with his aggressive and tireless handling of his drum set, drawing on a woodblock, a tambourine and a small set of bongo drums to give each song increased depth.
To add to the mood, the lights dimmed periodically and the band played on with the only bright spots coming from the drums and stands supporting the amps onstage. It created a sense of intimacy and unity which was simply captivating.
But as interesting as the lights and the instrumentation were, it was the emotion that made the show what it was. Not everyone caught on, but for those who did, it vaulted the show to new heights.
Davison’s haunting vocals, coupled with the passionate, honest performances put forward by each member of the band, gripped the musical souls of those who watched closely enough. Every stroke, every beat was perfectly executed.
Particularly moving was the band’s rendition of the slower half of their song “Old and Gray,” in which Davison’s voice projected powerfully out into the crowd over a gentle guitar riff. For a music lover, it was absolute paradise.
In an interview with Davison and Elders before their set, which felt more like a conversation with friends, discussing topics as broad as the music business to Ethiopian food to playing at the same time as Snoop Dogg (now Snoop Lion).
What was most striking about the interview, though, was Davison’s introverted personality. Considering his compelling voice and evident mastery of the guitar, it seemed like he would be composed and confident when talking about his musical experience and recent success.
However, Davison seemed, at first, almost nervous to talk about his career and success. Perhaps his shyness was more anxiety-based; in either case, Davison was immediately charismatic and likeable with his warmth and his welcoming demeanor.
Even Davison’s signature at the end of the night proved noteworthy. He wrote on a CD purchased at the concert, “Thank you for hanging out and talking with us. It was great to meet you and hopefully we’ll see you again soon.”
Who knows; maybe he does that regularly. Maybe in excitement it’s possible to overplay his simple gesture of gratitude as something more.
Yet something makes it seem that Davison’s comments were truly sincere. Just like his music.
Scantlen and Mariner are members of the class of 2015.