The Dan Emery Mystery Band
A little jar of mustard for the soul
I have one mission tonight,” said the man on the slightly elevated stage of the cramped, dimly-lit cafe. “For you,” he continued, stopping here to point directly at a random guy in the audience who looked completely bewildered, “for you I have one mission... It is to entertain you.”
And for those of us in the audience who were willing to shut up and listen, entertain us they did. The Dan Emery Mystery Band, an up-and-coming band from New York City whose debut album Love and advertising has been recently reviewed by The Tech, played their first non-NYC gig at The Kendall Cafe Friday, March 12. Even without a drummer, The Mystery Band played their 10-song set with a passionate conviction, a tangible sense of honesty, and a general air of good-natured humor that was absolutely engaging. Their songs range from quiet musings to honest conversation to raucous humor, all guaranteed to put you in a better mood.
The Mystery Band eased into their repertoire by opening with “Space Renegade,” a ballad from their album. Like their other slower pieces, it tends to get overlooked in favor of the more upbeat songs, but in performance it was completely stunning. Dan Emery’s strong vocals, Brian Tully’s solid bass-playing, and the sounds Steve Espinola produced using a short-wave radio, all combined to convey perfectly the sense of loneliness, resignation, and escape that the song relates.
The opening song, great as it was, belied the fun and frolic that filled most of the evening. The band introduced the next song with the comment, “This is famous,” which turned out to be a bit of a joke because the name of the song was “Famous.” As in “Her Favorite Bra,” a song in which a male friend wishes he could help his female friend get through her difficult times by being supportive and “firm” and “strong” like a bra, “Famous” also features an amusing analogy. Over a goofy accompaniment reminiscent of “Wild Thing”, Espinola eloquently answers the well-known question “If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one to hear, does it produce a sound?” with the lines, “You’re a tree in the forest/and you just want to fall/But if you’re not in the news/you didn’t happen at all.”
Such amusing metaphors are one of the idiosyncratic strengths of the Mystery Band’s already catchy songs. In the same vein as “Bra” and “Famous” are the tunes “Other People’s Tongues,” in which the narrator says that even though he and his girlfriend have kissed many other people in previous relationships, “That’s okay, ’cause we brushed our teeth,” and “Little Jar of Mustard.” The latter song is a unique mini-serenade in which the narrator begs the object of his desire to “Squeeze me, squeeze me, squeeze me, ’cause I’m a little jar of mustard.” He alternates between such declarations of affection, growing more emphatic with pleas to “Squeeze me and spread me” and “Squeeze me, spread me, eat me,” with insecure questions of, “Do you like mustard?” and “Are you allergic to mustard?” and finally, “Are you allergic to me?” The song is so trivial yet so hilariously memorable that it stood out even among all the other great performances of the night.
It’s impossible not to mention at least in passing all five of the songs which regrettably do not appear on the Mystery Band’s album but were performed. Along with “Famous” and “Mustard” were “Whoop-te-do,” a gently lilting song about a former love, and the two irreverent songs, “Downloading Smut from the Internet” and “Me Against the Assholes of the World.” “Smut” greatly increased the group’s energy and featured one of the band’s best hooks, and “Assholes” was completely refreshing in its honest confessions. Both were told in a tongue-in-cheek manner that let the audience know that even though the group is unafraid to address topics that may be considered taboo, the group never takes their rebellion against society too seriously.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the five songs taken from Love and advertising were among the best songs from the album. The songs really benefited from live performance, especially “Bra” and “The Only One Who Loves You,” where the lyrics and music were more immediate and thus more potent. Also, Dan Emery’s practice of keeping the lyrics fluid by changing them slightly as it suited his mood caused each song to feel wonderfully spontaneous. Additions were welcome surprises as well, like the lyrics and piano sound effect in “Bra” in which on top of everything bad that had happened that day the knob for the hot water falls off while the girl is trying to take a relaxing shower. There’s also the alternate verse in “Student Loan” in which the narrator keeps trying to get rid of his student loan mailings, even going so far as to have NASA send them into orbit.
But the highlight of the evening was the final song, “The Only One,” played at the request of an overly zealous audience member. The band showed their desire to please, for although they protested the request at first by saying, “But we don’t have our drummer!” they immediately shrugged off their momentary reservations and performed a stellar version of the song.
In our cynical modern society it is difficult to recognize true heartfelt candidness even when it’s sung directly to us from a stage in a cafe, but the Mystery Band proved in their performance that they are not only the real thing, but a talented group of musicians as well. Their performance at the Kendall Cafe showed The Dan Emery Mystery Band playing their catchy, memorable, feel-good, and honest-without-being-cheesy songs at their best, giving a much-improved and better-informed opinion of the band than came from being only acquainted with their album. Although their concert was all too short, the audience (who was generally too interested in their drinks to give the band a chance to win them over) was not ideal, and many people didn’t even know that they had missed the opportunity to hear such a great band. For those who were paying attention, the Dan Emery Mystery Band did more than succeed in entertaining us; they won us over and made us fans. If you were among those that missed them, don’t despair. You can pick up their album, Love and advertising at CDNow, Amazon.com, and the Band’s website at http://aperock.home.mindspring.com/.