So Long Davey! Sails By Their Instruments

The local band charts the uncertain waters of being a new band in a treacherous time for music.

Adrift on a sea of eyeliner, I make my way for the first time to the stage room at the back of SOMA, weaving through a very dimly lit lobby loosely packed with 14 to 19-year-olds, the light above the merch table the only star to guide me. Darkly dressed and most of them fidgety, they’ve managed to peel themselves away from the computer (don’t worry, their smart phones have full bars here) and each has scraped together the $8 for entry, most of which will go to the venue, because, I don’t know, they were bored, most say.

But something did actually move these fans to put one colored Converse in front of the other differently colored Converse to make it out tonight. Many are friends of the band or friends of friends, but some just saw a flier and wanted to see some live music on a Friday night. Whatever it was, it’s a welcome sight as we come off one of the worst years for live music attendance since the electric guitar was invented. Whether it’s the economy or the Internet, record-low turnouts have put the pinch on local bands that are mostly self-financed, and every t-shirt, every sticker, every ticket sold matters.

As I peer around at the downturned faces lit by LCD’s, I wonder if they’re posting YouTube videos from the last band’s performance. But before the thought fully forms, the stage hands suddenly scatter, the room goes dark, and in a flash of colored lights the “dance-rock” quartet from San Diego begins to bang out infectious, driving melodies – and, as if by instinct, the crowd starts to dance. Local live music is still around, and always will be. All it needs is a few energetic, talented bands; bands with big personality to carry the banner through so much user-generated fluff. And it seems at least one San Diego band is up to the challenge.

Why So Long Davey! is headlining is evident at first blush (or is that rouge?) –  these guys look and play the part. Drummer Michael Behymer’s high-mounted cymbals, pulsating bass drum, and banging head bring uncommon life to the upstaged instrument. Guitarist James Austin appears to teeter perpetually on the brink of shredding a solo; a craving he indulges frequently but subtly. Resident pretty-boy Filip Miucin dutifully mans the bass and the beanie at stage left, periodically trying (but not too hard) to conceal a genuinely sheepish smile, teased out by frequent cat-calls.

And then there’s David, the band’s front man – you know, the guy rocking the huge “half-fro” mohawk, taking his shirt off and gyrating in ways that would make Elvis blush. Yeah him.  The lead singer and the band’s namesake  (So Long Davey! being both an homage and farewell to his days as a solo artist) holds all the long notes during a jumping, thrusting, grinding calisthenics routine he’s doing.

Despite garnering frequent attention from local record labels and agents, So Long Davey! remains tentative and largely self-reliant, wary of the one-album-one-tour turnaround to which so many other new bands have fallen prey and since disappeared. The band isn’t anti-corporate, per se, because they’re not anti-anything. They simply don’t want to feel pressured to compromise their creative process, which they can only describe as “completely organic.” But they’re also pragmatic businessmen, particularly David and James, who are taking nearly every precaution to protect their vision as they build their brand. They’re the kind of guys that prefer to undersell and over-deliver. Meanwhile, the rules are changing for the music business, but how drastically is anyone’s guess. The major labels are starting to offer few alternatives to a “full-service” contract, which allows the label to take a cut of the touring profits that used to be largely off limits to anyone but the band and their inner circle.

But Davey! isn’t panicking just yet; for now they’re most focused on their product, which still seems to evade definition. They don’t cringe at labels like “pop-punk” or “power-pop,” they simply find them inaccurate. And I would agree. There’s a versatility to their sound that would have them equally at home in a downtown dance club or a stage at Warped Tour – a cross-genre undertow that’s slowly pulling the next generation of concert goers out of their computer chairs and into dimly lit venues, and not a moment too soon.