Home Live Review Live Review: TWAIN @ Comet Ping Pong — 10/20/22

Live Review: TWAIN @ Comet Ping Pong — 10/20/22

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TWAIN at Comet Ping Pong Washington DC Photo by Casey Vock

Mat Davidson, who records and tours as TWAIN, performs at Comet Ping Pong on Oct. 20, 2022. (Photo by Casey Vock)

The finest music seems to be best enjoyed in an intimate setting or perhaps a private environment, where a listener can absorb songs in an honest manner.

Concurrently, some musicians are offering something so delicate, so vulnerable that to perform it live requires small doses of touring built on appearances at low-key venues where an artist can drop their guard and be comfortable right alongside people who’ve gone out of their way to see them in person.

Passionate followers of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mat Davidson, who records as TWAIN, were thrilled to find themselves in such a scenario the night of Oct. 20 at Comet Ping Pong for a rare headlining appearance by this captivating and highly influential folk figure.

Touring in support of his newly released studio album, Noon, the Austin-based Davidson could be seen early on sneaking in and out of the backstage area of the table tennis-themed bar and restaurant in Chevy Chase. He made several passes through the room, even stopping to chat as he went and later taking in some of the night’s two opening sets, as well.

With Blaze Foley coming out of the speakers, Mat eventually took his seat at the stage, mouthing the words to a well-timed and placed “Clay Pigeons.” He’d forgotten something, so he got up to grab it and scooted back to his seat — but for a moment, he didn’t even want to interrupt the song, so he sat there for a few seconds taking it in with the crowd, even beginning to sing it outright.

“I just felt bad cutting off Blaze,” he smiled, cozying to the scene before him, with several guests flopped right on the concrete floor in front of the low stage. His hair long in braids down each shoulder, his dark eyes became pointed underneath bright blue fluorescence, his presence simply magnetic.

Stream TWAIN’s new album, titled Noon and released by Keeled Scales, via Spotify:

Thanking everyone for being there, Mat shared that he hoped to step out of his comfort zone and began to address the attentive and agreeable group as if sitting in a living room. Though not the most boisterous artist of his caliber, it was clear Davidson was carefully inviting guests into his realm, and they proved to be more than willing.

Courteous and soft-spoken, he started a set that would ultimately showcase the genius, the bravery and the innocent concern in his music that has swept up fans of alternative folk and country, and music critics, too. Traversing what some would consider difficult terrain, Mat presented songs of anguish and authenticity with remarkable textures and miraculous emotion.

With just his acoustic Yamaha guitar plugged into a small amp, a few pedals at his boots and seated a couple feet away from the closest onlookers, Davidson offered up something wholly revealing in the form of stark and transparent takes on a list of favorites, even taking requests along the way and making the night all that better with spontaneity.

“In the High of the Morning” from 2019’s Adventure so magically showed Mat’s ability to find the most gorgeous, isolated melodies on the guitar strings and sew those into enchanting compositions. A mystical timing and tone in his one-of-a-kind voice, Davidson seems to have come out of a vintage fairytale — a nomadic minstrel who conveys thought and feeling with such vivid abstraction that it can intoxicate the listener and become permanent in their imagination.

“Hank & Georgia” from Rare Feeling is another unconventional piece of songwriting and at Comet Ping Pong it featured Mat’s gripping words amplified and impassioned, particularly the rectifying, repeated plea: “You’re gonna have to learn to love the part of yourself you’ve hated for so long.”

One of the early singles from the Noon album, which hit mailboxes this week, “The Priestess” was another convincing example of why this human’s music so quickly captivates, with each verse feeling like segments of a personal journey toward discovery.

Stream “The Priestess” by TWAIN on YouTube:

Arguably one of Mat’s most crucial pieces, “Royal Road” — released on the 2015 EP Sir Kitchen Boy and later on the Adventure album — was staggering in purely posing some of the most demanding existential questions in an understandable tongue:

“Do you think your mind is just a lady? Do you think your mind is just a man? Well I know my mind / It never knew the difference between the two / ‘Til they said ‘hey you. This is what you are.’”

Justifiably consumed by these lines of his, Mat was meteoric and fiery in a courageous display of acumen.

“Anyone have any surprises today?” he inquired after a few songs.

“You got me out of my house for the first time in a while,” one man said.

“I quit my job today,” shared another, drawing nods of approval and even some cheers, with no context necessary.

Even Davidson himself gave a bit of a celebratory whoop for the newly liberated soul.

“I’ve never made that sound in public before,” Mat said, humor so dry that it stuck and drew chuckles. “I’m trying to change some things in my life. I’ve been doing this a certain way for so long, sometimes you have to do a career-ending ‘woooh.’ … I’m going to go back to plucking strings.”

It seems that’s what the Virginia native has been doing for many years as a member of various outfits, including a run with the Low Anthem and then as a member of Spirit Family Reunion before he set out to achieve more with the music he began writing and recording as TWAIN with a laptop back in the mid-2000s.

Having connected with Adrian Olsen of Montrose Recording to create the 2010 EP Love Is All Around, Mat teamed back up with the Richmond-based mixer and producer for what was a straight-to-tape, analog project in 2014’s Life Labors in the Choir, a lonely, utterly breathtaking affirmation of his solo efforts and one that began to endear him to the thoughtful music lovers far and wide.

When the music is so hauntingly attractive as to feel unique to your own life and ultimately becomes sacred, then it’s understandable that it becomes cherished by what is still a growing number of listeners.

But ultimately, his work drew the attention of industry forces, including Scott McMicken of Dr. Dog, who would team up with Olsen to record TWAIN’s 2015 breakthrough Rare Feeling. A stunning, heartbreaking submission and one considered by some to be nothing short of a modern-day masterpiece, it was Mat’s first album released by Keeled Scales, a record label in Austin boasting an impressive roster of important, purposeful musicians.

And it stood to reason that just as his reach began to broaden, Mat saw a rush of opportunities to tour or record as a musician playing alongside the likes of Michael Nau, Buck Meek and Langhorne Slim — this past summer he joined his longtime compadre for a memorable set at the famed Newport Folk Festival.

Watch Mat Davidson perform the TWAIN track “Inner Beauty” in a video produced for YouTube channel some of that, please:

Additionally, he’s toured as the supporting act for a variety of standouts too, including his friends The Deslondes and Big Thief, a band he joined in the studio to add guest instrumentation on the highly anticipated 2022 album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You. His honed skills on the pedal steel guitar, fiddle, piano, accordion, bass and the recorder, along with his warm presence, position him an alluring additive to any tour.

Considering his limited touring as TWAIN since embarking with it in earnest, his organic delivery last Thursday at Comet Ping Pong was excitedly gratifying, especially considering his growing stature. Just as he has at his own gigs and of those he’s supported in the past, Davidson carried himself as an unassuming and down-to-earth human, and it’s clear that his compelling heart and remarkable poeticism have connected to his growing fanbase mostly by way of his five acclaimed studio releases that followed his largely DIY series of digital albums.

Mat opened up in discussing the source of some songs, such as “Cold Water in the A.M.,” a song rich in character that he crafted for Life Labors in the Choir.

“I used to drink a lot and then I stopped,” said Davidson, who’s heading toward his late 30s. “It’s about being almost lost in the grip of addiction … something not myself.”

The powerful preface only made the evening that much more unforgettable, and he’d eventually defer to the audience in hearing requests, answering with a sweetened take on “Dear Mexico” that heard a few voices chime in with lyrics just as it looked like Mat might have been searching for them.

“Thank you for reversing the thing that I interrupted the song to correct” — it resonated as sincere gratitude from a songwriter with a gift for artfully transforming universally relatable feelings and experiences into music so wonderous that it’s a shame to consider it might be heard only on this planet, only by human ears.

Listen to TWAIN’s 2015 breakthrough album Rare Feeling via Spotify:

Genuine takes on “Solar Pilgrim” and “Little Dog Mind” from 2019’s New Miami Sound undoubtedly had the few dozen folks at Comet marveling at the chance to stand — or lie — before such a talented guide, one who’s involved in a number of projects at any given moment.

In convincing fashion, this respected artisan, bandmate and good buddy to many showed why his music has become nothing short of coveted. As he and his dynamic services become more in demand as he goes, the nights to witness his beautiful projection in such a tight space will certainly become fewer and farther between.

So fortunate were for those in the room last Thursday night, and thankful are many that the songs of TWAIN do not exist in secrecy. Rather, they knowingly speak for a collective consciousness — similar hopes, desires, struggles and grief — and serve as a reminder that as unique as we all are as individuals, we are somehow united.

Setlist (incomplete)

In The High of the Morning
Hank & Georgia
The Priestess
Royal Road
Cold Water In The Morning
Dear Mexico
Solar Pilgrim
Little Dog Mind
Are We In Heaven?

Here are images of TWAIN, as well as opening acts Henry Tolland and You and me and You, performing at Comet Ping Pong in Washington DC the night of Oct. 20, 2022. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.

TWAIN at Comet Ping Pong Washington DC Photo by Casey Vock

TWAIN at Comet Ping Pong Washington DC Photo by Casey Vock

TWAIN at Comet Ping Pong Washington DC Photo by Casey Vock

TWAIN at Comet Ping Pong Washington DC Photo by Casey Vock

TWAIN at Comet Ping Pong Washington DC Photo by Casey Vock

TWAIN at Comet Ping Pong Washington DC Photo by Casey Vock

Henry Tolland (with Chris Beland)

Henry Tolland with Chris Beland at Comet Ping Pong Washington DC Photo by Casey Vock Henry Tolland with Chris Beland at Comet Ping Pong Washington DC Photo by Casey Vock

Henry Tolland with Chris Beland at Comet Ping Pong Washington DC Photo by Casey Vock

You and Me and You

You and Me and You at Comet Ping Pong Washington DC Photo by Casey Vock

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