David Wax Museum Unearths Sonic Artifacts [PHOTOS] REVIEW+PHOTOS: DAVID WAX MUSEUM @ MERCURY LOUNGE 9/20/17
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New York, NY- Between tweetstorms and hurricanes, social fault lines and earthquakes, 2017 continues to be a trying year. Charlottesville remains on our minds, and for David Wax and Suz Slezak, the core duo of David Wax Museum, the city is not just a news headline — it’s home. In the aftermath of the violence, they shared a series of intimate, black-and-white photos from Los Angeles, where the band was recording new songs. The posts reflected on the struggle to stay present and keep an open heart for the music they were creating, while simultaneously wishing to be home with family and friends.
Suz referenced Charlottesville on Wednesday night as David Wax Museum played a spirited set to a packed Mercury Lounge. The band — in addition to David and Suz, Ben Kogan (bass), Danilo Henriquez (percussion), the touring horn section of Alec Spiegelman and Cole Kamen-Green and guitarist Anthony da Costa — celebrated their tenth year with a set showcasing an amalgam of border-crossing folk, rock, and electronics-embellished pop. Somewhere in the midst of the joy and boundless energy that is a DWM show (check out this video of Born With A Broken Heart, filmed at Newport Folk Festival) — the colorful bursts from the horn section, the handclap percussion, and a song performed on the floor, surrounded by fans — it occurred to me that music doesn’t have to style itself as protest art, or even be overtly political in content, in order to engage the pressing issues of our day.
Study after study shows that facts don’t change our minds, but everyday interaction with neighbors and coworkers can shift how we relate to perceived differences. Empathy, says a former neo-Nazi, is what got through to him and other ex-supremacists. And while we can yell in all caps on Facebook and attend rallies, there are other ways to shape the conversation. As David Wax Museum crisscrosses the country, playing to clubs and living rooms, radio stations and festivals, new people are introduced to music that weaves together sounds from Veracruz to Appalachia, using a wide array of instruments — apart from the usual suspects of guitars and keys and drums, there’s fiddle, accordion, quijada (donkey jawbone), and jarana (a guitar-like instrument from Mexico). Some of the songs are performed in Spanish and those who can’t sing along, still dance along. Maybe somewhere in all of this, people have a chance to internalize not merely tolerance for, but appreciation of, the products of diverse backgrounds and experiences. And while diversity shouldn’t be pursued merely for its utility, surely that appreciation is one starting point in tearing down the walls that divide, whether figurative or literal. And that’s part of the power of art: the pen can be mightier than the sword and a song can be a counterpoint to Twitter rants about bans.
David Wax Museum celebrates their milestone 1000th show this weekend as they wrap up a tour behind their latest release, Electric Artifacts (Mark of the Leopard), a collection of b-sides and rarities from the past decade. The opening track, “At Least I Tried,” has an intimate immediacy, as if friends have gathered in your living room with their instruments. The brightness of the arrangement is juxtaposed against a subdued accounting of the mismatch between expectations imposed, dreams pursued, and the reality at day’s end. The album can be seen as both a reflection on the journey to date and a preview of what’s to come: ten-plus years into this endeavor, with two children in tow and countless guesthouses in the rearview mirror, David Wax Museum continues to deepen and expand its sonics, drawing in an ever-growing fan base.
When I sat down to reflect on an evening spent with one of my favorite bands, I intended to type up a show recap/album review. But it’s better to let the folks at NPR Music explain son jarocho (and check out DWM’s beginner’s guide to Mexican folk music). I’m just here to tell you that David Wax Museum shows, whether as a duo acoustic set or an electric (and electrifying) full band, are effervescent. You’ll be humming the choruses on your way home. So give them a listen already, and catch them on tour.
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Vivian is a Texas-raised, NYC-based photographer. She writes about critters by day and music by night. Find her on Instagram (@Lithophyte) and at www.LithophytePhoto.com.