David Mayfield's jokes flowed thickly, some landed, others just awkwardly hung in the air around the stage like farts. Throughout the set, Mayfield introduced his four-piece band, poked fun at their expense and played raucous country tunes. Overall, the jokes were fine, some were funny even, but when Mayfield's African-American drummer was introduced, things seemed to get a little out of line.
Mayfield's songs often featured distorted, acoustic guitar, hollering, upright bass and beautiful harmony parts from backup singer Rebekah Jean. "Noreen" stood out as a satisfying toe-tapper with a splash of verbal slapstick from Mayfield. "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke," a cover of Joe Maphis and Rose Lee's 1959 hit, was performed on the floor of Off Broadway, totally unplugged, supported by Jean's crystalline vocals.
"I Have Been Known to Be Wrong but I'm Afraid I'm Right," occupied the space between a serious, back-porch Americana tear-streamer and a jokey, country rib-tickler akin to something Ween might have penned for "12 Golden Country Greats." Jen Starsinic's fiddle highlighted each transition and seamlessly interacted with the song's melody. "Trapped Under the Ice" found the audience singing back at David, "I am a monkey in a cage" during a bluesy verse that soon exploded into a vast, intoxicating chorus, complete with more gorgeous fiddle from Starsinic.
David Wax Museum took the stage before a room of family, relatives and friends. Many sat in chairs, supporting Wax with big smiles and warm applause. Opener, "Leopard Girl," from 2012's "Knock Knock Get Up," offered an excellent verisimilitude to the record. Not a single note sounded out of place as the song tantalized with a Mexicali strut. Wax sang, "I want to know how I look through your eyes" as he played a jarana (a Mexican guitar-like instrument), which projected impressive sound for its miniscule size.
"Vivian" found multi-intstrumentalist Suz Slezak squeezing an accordion and singing backup parts. Once bluegrass-inspired in the studio, the song grew to possess a Caribbean vibe. This kind of deep, cultural and generic experimentation is vital to American music. "Big Heart of Yours" occupied a subdued, introspective modality, remaining gentle with stabs of guitar and organ.
"Yes, Maria, Yes," from 2011's "Everything is Saved," featured Slezak on the quijada (a donkey's jawbone). Slezak played the instrument every possible way. She ran her drum stick along the jaw's white teeth, clacked it between the "U" of the lower jaw, but most interestingly, she hit the palm of her hand against the jaw's side to create a buzzing sound similar to a vibra-splap. I wondered what provided such a rattle-buzz. I soon realized it was the teeth quaking in the jaw, which took the song to a new level of interest.
Wax picked up an electric guitar for "The Rumors Are True." Slezak hopped on a synthesizer and sang. The paired voices made me understand what Wilco mixed with Paul Simon might sound like. Slezak plucked a dangling horsehair from the bow of her fiddle before she and Wax slipped into the introspective "Look What You've Done To Me," which shimmered and rose dynamically like a firebird.
After an acoustic version of "A Dog in This Fight," during which Slezak's wooden heels became a percussion instrument, Wax and his band delved into some dulcet gospel. "Let Me Rest in the Wake of the Lord" found the band standing together at the front of the stage, stomping out the beat as it dropped at the top of each verse. The detour from their set was drastic, but proved the versatility of Wax and his band of multi-instrumentalists.
"Will You Be Sleeping," "Born With a Broken Heart," and "Harder Before It Gets Easier" burgeoned with cultural flavor, uptempo power, innovation and skilled playing. Wax encored with "Unfruitful" from 2011's "Everything is Saved." The swanky and gothic track put the perfect cap on the evening of cultural play, again showcasing the band's versatility. After the encore, Wax quit the stage to greet his family, relatives and fans.