Nicholas David at First Avenue, 5/10/13
Seeing Nicholas David live isn't like watching the man on television. It's infinitely better.
Anyone who followed season three of The Voice can attest to David's astounding showmanship. The tall, bearded, "family man from Minnesota" captivated audiences around the country with his uniquely soulful renditions of classic tunes week after week until he placed third in the competition.
The first sold-out show of a two-night stint at First Avenue was packed to the brim, with hardly any space to move around both upstairs and on the main floor even while David's opener, DJ Heatbox, warmed up the stage, which was filled with plants and prayer flags, Buddha statues and incense. A few minutes before 10 p.m., clad in a gray fedora, brown suit jacket, vest, and orange pants, Nicholas David emerged onstage to whoops and hollers, before bowing at the audience and launching into his first song.
The evening drifted back and forth between cover songs and David's original material, but there was never a dull moment. Energy burst from the man's fingertips whether he jabbed at the ivories or plucked at his guitar, danced behind his keyboards or jammed with the musicians behind him.
It appears David took his Voice coach Cee Lo Green's performance advice to heart, moving fluidly with the beat of each song as a truly great presence. However big the improvements David made on the show looked, they were minimal in comparison to the zeal this man performs with for a packed house. There's something about the intimacy of sharing a room with several hundred people packed and swaying about that can't be captured on studio camera, let alone a television screen broadcast to millions of people.
Liveliness just emanates from the guy when he's onstage, and it's infectious as hell. It's impossible not to get amped during the monumental build up on "Monsters Sleep," bop along with "She's Gone," or feel "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" aching in your heart. (Although it should be noted that it's hard not to feel something when hearing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow.")
Nicholas David and Melanie Martinez
Friday's guest of honor Melanie Martinez came onstage for three solo songs, promoting her summer album in a collared dress and Cruella DeVille-style dichromatic locks. Martinez's most well-known song was her nearly unrecognizable rendition of Britney Spears's "Toxic," which won her lots of fans on The Voice. While her lilting, husky voice does show through on her original material, it feels a lot more natural than on her cover songs. Martinez stayed onstage for a searing duet of Fiona Apple's "Criminal" with David, a repeat of the chemistry-laden version they performed together on The Voice.
Near the end of the set, David announced, "A really good buddy of mine just got into town..." Within moments, his Voice co-competitor Trevin Hunte emerged to an uproar from the audience. Turns out Hunte just had a birthday, and David had everyone sing Saturday night's guest of honor "Happy Birthday" while he blew out candles on a giant cake. While it looked like Hunte might've joined in with David on a song or two (he gravitated toward an open mic when he first came on), Hunte ended up taking a picture of the singing crowd and disappeared backstage.
David closed out the show with "Across the Universe." You'd probably be hard-pressed to find an audience member who could repeat the exact rhythm with which David sang "Jai guru deva," but that's just part of this musician's charm. Reinventing and evolving each song he sings, David gives songs deeply ingrained in pop culture something new and passionate with each performance.
The biggest shame (and it's not really a shame, per se) about the show had nothing to do with any of the performances, but the fact that these Voice contestants have been put into a position where their covers have more of an effect on audiences than their (sometimes better) original material. It's a fine line to skate, for sure, between giving your audience the familiar songs they know and love already, and showing them something new and innovative. It's similar to what other touring musicians do, playing old hits interspersed with new album material. However, I really hope that one day David, Martinez, and Hunte are recognized for not only their uncanny abilities to sing some wicked covers, but also their own heartfelt work.
Personal Bias: I've thought Nicholas David was pretty awesome from the first time I saw that bearded wonder on The Voice, and I've been waiting to see him live in the Cities ever since. Although I'll admit I'm not (yet!) familiar with all of his original tunes, so feel free to comment on the set list below.
The Crowd: An older crowd fit to sway, cheer, and stand for several hours. I've seen my fair share of sold-out nights at First Avenue, but the crowd for Nicholas David seemed truly fit to burst through the doors since everyone in the crowd had their own personal bubble.
Overheard in the Crowd: "It sounds like SNL!"
Random Notebook Dump: A surprising amount of weed wafted through the mainroom.
Stand By Me
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Queen of the Angels
You're the First, The Last, My Everything
[Break for Melanie Martinez]
Great Balls of Fire medley
What's Going On
Across the Universe
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