Sitting in the third row, aisle seat, of the rows upon rows of chairs lining The Cistern, I stared up at the stage, mouth agape. “Holy shit,” I said to my sister. “I know,” she cooed, holding her plastic wine cup against her lips. “So cool.”
Kate Davis is so cool. She’s clearly talented: In less than an hour and a half, I watched her play original songs on the upright bass, bass guitar, and piano, and then pause, smile, and erupt into crowd-pleasing covers.
Maybe it’s because she’s my age. Maybe it’s because she’s said that the inspiration for her songs comes not from some troubled past, but simply from a normal, young life lived as all normal young lives are lived: with tiny triumphs and tragedies. Davis doesn’t have to sing about dire situations to evoke emotion. She simply has to sing.
Accompanied by Alex Foote on guitar and Conor Rayne on the drums, Davis played as a jazz, blues, and rock musician time and time again. In a delicate plea, Davis asks a lover to “Be Honest.” In “Smoke,” when Davis sings “Smoke in your eyes love/ Smoke in your eyes love,” it’s sultry, slow, and heavy, and it left me trying to shake it for a few minutes after it had ended. I am not of the school that you have to relate to art to enjoy it, but God knows a 24-year-old girl singing about love speaks to me in perhaps the most direct way any art form currently could. Davis seduced me, coddled me, picked me up, and spit me out.
My favorite piece was “Phillip,” a song about a smart kid Davis met at a high school honors program one summer. A few years after losing touch she learned that he had passed away. The song starts with the words “super-human genius,” describing the man, propelling the listener into a song unlike any of Davis’ other pieces. Everything she touches drips with emotion, but this song was absolutely drenched. She has far too much voice control to scream, but she gets damn near to it in the chorus of “Phillip,” pushing herself to the limits of what she can physically handle. Davis doesn’t pretend to know that she knew Phillip anymore than she did, but still, she mourns him.
Davis is a perfectionist. This is true of most musicians — it is necessary for their craft. So when Davis stuttered on one of her piano pieces she froze, looked to the audience, and asked if she could try again. We all cheered and clapped. I hadn’t noticed any misstep and I’m sure the average listener hadn’t either. But Davis wanted us to hear the song as she needed it to be played. So she tried again. “This is why I went to school for the bass,” she laughed. And we are reminded — Davis is just a kid. She’s self-conscious enough to point out her mistakes, palming her forehead in mild dismay. She says things like “Oh, I’m talking too much,” and points out the worn-away spots of her tights where Off bug spray “sucked the fibers out or something.” Her voice, though, has the soul of a woman twice her age.
We are reminded again of Davis’ youth when she begins to play covers. Quite simply, she doesn’t have any more original songs to play. Also, I think she wants to please the audience, giving them something familiar in case they didn’t like the words she wrote herself. I didn’t need the cover songs; I loved Davis’ original music. But ending with the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun,” seemed a fitting way for Davis to let loose. She encouraged the audience to clap along, and while some attempted to, I’ll be the first to admit that clapping to “Blister in the Sun” is maybe one of the harder things I’ve ever done (please see: kicked off stage for improper beat-keeping, Key West 2013), so I just rapidly nodded my head.
Kate Davis is not the voice of our generation; she is not the voice of a generation in which she wasn’t born, or of a generation that has yet to arrive. She is an amalgamation of a rich, textured voice, a stunning musical talent, and a light-hearted earnestness that one can only hope never fades. Kate Davis is her own voice. And I cannot wait to see where she grows from here.
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