A true professional is one who approaches her or his craft with singleness of purpose, the ability to ignore the surrounding noise, and the will to power through when roadblocks and obstacles are blaring “stop, go back, give up!”
Life on the road for a working musician is tough enough without the unexpected breakdowns, illnesses, and logistical headaches. Thus when harpist/singer-songwriter extraordinaire Mikaela Davis and Southern Star stopped into the Songbyrd Music House and Record Café recently, they had already overcome several hurdles, including Mikaela losing her voice prior to the previous night’s gig that forced her first ever cancellation.
And though the Songbyrd crowd was disappointingly small (but overwhelmingly intimate), Mikaela and her bandmates played as if it was a sold-out arena on Nov. 11.
The opening set featured songs from her first album, Delivery (Rounder Records) and an as yet unnamed follow-up. In a foreshadowing of what we would hear later, I was struck by how much the new music incorporated a Grateful Dead-like quality, recalling songs like China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider in both their melodies and rhythms. Perhaps playing with former Dead guitarist Bob Weir several times over the past year has had an effect!
Stream Delivery by Mikaela Davis on Spotify:
The second set was a lovingly and accurately rendered performance of Live/Dead, the seminal 1969 Grateful Dead live album (on a side note, the original album was released on Nov. 10, almost 50 years to the day of this evening’s performance).
As a veteran of several Dead shows in the ’80s, I had high (no pun intended) expectations for Mikaela and her band, but the music, complete with the effortless transitions between songs and that unmistakable Dead aura took me right back to another place and time. Indeed, Mikaela’s assembled an expert group of musicians whose ability to recreate the Dead’s music, as well as the “feeling,” is remarkable given that they were not yet born when Jerry Garcia and company were at their peak. Her bandmates included Alex Coté (drums, percussion), Shane McCarthy (bass, vocals), Cian McCarthy (guitar, vocals), and recent additions, Kurt G. Johnson (guitar), Greg Maslyn (keys, percussion, vocals).
In My Groove
Pure Divine Love
Home in the Country
Turn On Your Love Light
Death Don’t Have No Mercy
And We Bid You Goodnight
See Mikaela perform “Pure Divine Love” at the 2018 Underwater Sunshine Fest on YouTube:
Highlights throughout the evening included a solid first set with the new songs “Promise” and Cinderella” an indication of good things to come with the new album. The Live/Dead set was a tour de force as Mikaela and band played for over an hour without a break, weaving improvisation and space into each song as expertly as the Dead 50 years ago.
Greg Maslyn took a turn on vocals for “Turn On Your Love Light” and absolutely crushed it. Mikaela’s vocal on “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” was as courageous as it was lovely, given that she was barely able to speak a mere 24 hours earlier. The show ended with “Feedback” (or the improvisational “Space” as that portion of Dead shows became known for) into an a capella “We Bid You Good Night.” Mikaela returned for an unexpected and lovely “Bird Song” that was abruptly cut short when an amplifier blew up with a loud “POP!” But for those of us who were still in the room, in typical Dead-like fashion, our long, strange trip ended with a literal bang.
Mikaela continues her Live/Dead tour through mid-December. To hear Mikaela’s music, see video, and check upcoming tour dates, visit her website.
Here are some pictures of Mikaela Davis performing at Songbyrd Music House on Nov. 11, 2019. All photos copyright and courtesy of Mark Caicedo.