Elvis and the devil in Davis
Satan made me boogie:
Fatima, a young UC Davis co-ed a good three drinks past “tipsy,” sucks down a vodka tonic while urging me to visit her ophthalmologist father for laser-eye surgery. “I’m not, like, his sales girl,” she deflects, “but he’s good. You’ll take better pictures.”
The petite, inebriated 20-something is here at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen to catch Nick Jaina—“He’s better live than in studio,” Fatima’s guileless two cents—and has locked down a prime spot smack-dab in front of the blond Jaina’s microphone. Right next to me. Badgering. Cracking wise.
But this sort of camaraderie is Sophia’s charm: Its glorious outdoor wood patio, where artist’s perform within a tiny, six-by-eight spot in the north corner, perches above a hushed E Street in downtown Davis, wedged between a dumpling joint and a bitsy café called The Hotdogger. And tonight, Sophia’s is packed: a friendly mush of revelers, mostly students with brew pints glued to palms. The show appears to be sold out, if by default; there’s nary an inch to maneuver.
But why would you want to leave the patio? It’s opening night of Sophia’s spring-summer concert series, and Jaina goes on a few ticks past 11 o’ clock, after being introduced by KDVS Cool As Folk’s Michael Leahy, who draws whoops and “Michael,” like he’s Davis’ King of Pop or something.
Anyway, Jaina and his band—Thomas Paul on electric guitar, Scott Magee on drums and clarinet, Nathan Langston on violin, William Joersz on upright bass, John Whaley on trumpet—are a unique, Portland-based brand of folk rock. If a pigeon found a hole, he’d cuddle up in the Sondre Lerche meets Mason Jennings with Sufjan Stevens flourishes burrow. That said, I almost prefer Jaina live than the aforementioned heavy-hitters. He’s got an honest, effortless, even tropical West Coast folk allure, whereas the others always come across a bit stuffy and stiff onstage.
Jaina himself is a savvy frontman. Sporting black-rimmed glasses; a crisp, white-collared shirt; and navy jacket with a curious felt strawberry pinned to its lapel, he inconspicuously cuddles up to the mic and grooves on his acoustic guitar. The rest of the band pops and bounces, thrusting trumpets and percussion mallets into the sky with more noticeable oomph. And in the back corner, Joersz rotates in place, bumping his bass. It’s lively, danceable, poppy.
At one point, Jaina’s father hops on stage—its his birthday—to play tambourine (he can’t, at all). But it’s good fun.
The tipping point that gets the UC Davis crowd to bend knees and spring up off the wood, though, is a track off Jaina’s last record, “Singing the Devil’s Tune”; (check out Jaina’s latest album, A Bird In The Opera House, which drops this week at www.hushrecords.com). He sings—“See these burns on my feet? / They’re from dancing on your roof in the summer heat. / See these scars on my tongue? / They’re from telling the truth when I was so young”—to a muted acoustic strum. Until the trumpet blasts and “la-da-da-das” arrive in full force, blowing up into E Street’s midnight quiet like a good, raging anthemic crowd pleaser should. The patio rumbles as if Satan himself were going to explode from underneath.
A great gig—this is just the beginning; the Sophia’s concert series grooves each week through the end of summer. Visit www.sophiasthaikitchen.com for more info. (Nick Miller)
A king in brief:
Sometimes less isn’t more, it’s just less. Still, Elvis Costello managed to pack a plenty of good into his truncated Mondavi Center show last week.
While the seat usher promised a two-hour set, Costello’s performance barely clocked in at 90 minutes, but there was little else to complain about as the venerable pop singer-songwriter, armed only with guitars, deconstructed a handful of gems, stripping songs such as “Alison,” “God’s Comic” and “The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes” down to their beautiful, naked essentials.
At one point in the evening the 56-year-old singer, born Declan MacManus, jokingly lamented that “at this point in my life I thought I’d be playing a stage with my name in lights behind me.” As the singer stood on stage, surrounded only by a lineup of guitars, this was of course a reference to his showy rock ’n’ roll namesake. Still, although Elvis Presley has sold more records, it’s Costello who continues to make music that’s at once classic and modern. (Rachel Leibrock)