On the small, empty stage in the bowels of Nice n Sleazy sits an old vox amp on top of stack of beer crates, next to it is a table covered in random percussion instruments beside a lonely red velvet chair.
To the tune of Bowie and Jagger’s ‘Dancing in the Streets’ a thin, red haired man clambers from the fire escape onto the stage wearing what can only be described as formal pyjamas and an overcoat and hat that wouldn’t look out of place in Bugsy Malone, all topped off with a pair of black Ray Ban’s.
This is Son of Dave, alter ego of Canadian musician Benjamin Darvill, and despite the comical entrance he is considered to be one of the best modern blues songwriters around.
Quickly he crawls about the stage setting up various pedals, loopers and a mixing desk; “lock the door” he shouts before pulling a harmonica out of his pocket and launching into one of his early hits, ‘Leave without Running.’
After the opener he pauses, “I can’t see a fucking thing,” he pulls off his shades to reveal another smaller pair underneath.
Formerly of the Crash Test Dummies, Darvill is no stranger to an audience and through the night there is a strong comic performance element that runs both through the music and the audience interaction with plenty of clowning around.
In his new album, Blues at the Grand, Son of Dave’s use of a full band gives it a more of a traditional blues feel at first but this slowly gives way to the shufflin’ and stompin’ groove more associated with progressive trad records like Odelay.
Live he still plays as a one man band, looping vocals, harmonica and beatbox; watching these oddball folk tracks being put together is like watching spinning plates, a process which is intended to look chaotic but is also testament to his discipline and versatility as a musician.
The tracks from his latest studio outing have obviously been written with this in mind, numbers like ‘We Going Out’ and ‘Titty Shake’ start from a beat, grow lyrics, bass and overlapping harmonies, all slotting together organically to create a bayou style beatbox sound.
For an encore, we’re treated to a gospel style sing along, a blistering cover of ‘Black Betty’ and a giant inflatable banana.
The cover takes his lo-fi approach and combines it with the excitable energy of Ram Jam while holding onto to the roots qualities of the Leadbelly original.
After a performance with a lot of energy and heart, Son of Dave packs his bag of tricks, gathering his instruments into and old suitcase, and exits the building.
Words: Steven Penman