Dave Dondero and Dauphin

4 June, Sitting Room Session, AMP building, Napier
By Toby Blakey

I have always been drawn to those stories from the American heartland. Songs about those characters and lives that are so far removed from my own. Songs that evoke images of diners, rusty cadillacs, Harley Davidsons, worn out Levis and other cliches of Americana. But tonight there were no Budweisers, and no Jack and Diane in the room. I heard two musicians who told their own, unique American stories, who led us through their streets and shared their experiences from a country on a precipice.

Dauphin (aka Jason Burge) opened the night, with nothing but a guitar, an amp and a powerpoint slide show as support. It was to be a Choose Your Own Adventure night where we could decide which songs were played. Dauphin gave us summaries of the songs and we could choose: “Bogies or butterflies?”. Sometimes, in the spirit of things, he made the choice for us, or we chose both for fear of choosing the lesser song. Dauphin sang and spoke with great honesty about his relationships, political views and observations. He introduced each song and explained their origin, trying to put us in a position where we could really appreciate his lyrics. At times the intro lasted longer than the song and he stopped midway through a few songs to explain the importance of a verse or clarify a lyric which took away from the musical experience. There were a couple of false starts and forgotten lyrics, but who can hold that against a man from Mississippi playing Napier on a Wednesday night.  The honesty in his songwriting and in the way he told his own story was indicative of how seriously he takes his craft and how keen he is to share his stories and take his audience with him.

Plugged into the same amp, but without the Powerpoint came Dave Dondero. Dave has been touring most of his life and has a rich back catalogue. Named as one of the “best living songwriters” by NPR, his presence in Napier mid-week is miraculous. His lyrically driven set was chronological, taking us from  some of his earliest songs right up to the more recent comments on the state of Trump America. En route, we overheard strippers, met ex-Marines, talked with a man called Donagh, spent some time in Nevada and were given an image of America on the brink. Each story was told so well, so memorably; creating pictures and narratives that stick with you. Honesty again shone through the set.  Dave did not shy away from sharing his views on the current president and the dangers of sitting back passively and watching democracy crumble. He told stories of his frustrations with gun laws in America. Singing with eloquence, anger and passion about the political hijacking of America. His lyrics came to the front of each song, taking you on journeys through the stories they told and the emotions they produced. His set ended with a standing ovation and he responded, just like Dauphin, by asking us to choose his closing song. We were given three choices. We chose all three. We didn’t want him to stop.

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