Mix Concert Review–The David Wax Museum 9.14 at the 9:30

Suz Slezak with her donkey jawbone and David Wax

The David Wax Museum  brought the 9:30 Club to their knees with joy in Washington on Wednesday, September 15, as Mr. Wax turned 30 at midnight.  Wax and his wandering band of troubadours got off from the stage and walked through the quieted audience without microphones several times throughout their fun, heart-warming show.  The four piece group all sang and did duty on multiple instruments that included a clarinet, acoustic and electric guitars, a saxophone, fiddle, drums, and an actual donkey jawbone.  On their website the band says they “fuse traditional Mexican folk with country, folk and rock,” and though I don’t know if I’d have guessed that, I’ll take a heaping sample of whatever it is they’re serving up any time.  While not pop music, fans who like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, The New Pornographers and their iterations of AC Newman and Neko Case, and the Decemberists will feel right at home.  In 2010 they won an award for best Americana band in Boston.

It’s the third time the group has played DC since February and last night Wax mentioned that they’d played in twenty different living rooms in the DC area prior to playing a venue that sold tickets.  Bob Boilen of NPR Music once said that he was shocked how quickly Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros moved from the tiny venue DC 9 to the big stage at the Black Cat within about four months.  The David Wax Museum has gone from people’s living rooms to the 9:30, skipping the well-traveled path of many popular bands through the Black Cat, as Edward Sharpe did, in less than a year.

David Wax and Suz Slezak form the core of the group with Wax on guitar and Jarana, a Mexican instrument that looks like a ukelele.  Slezak plays the fiddle and the aforementioned jawbone.  Their voices, both together and alone, sound remarkable, as if nothing could shake them out of tune.  Slezak and Wax go together so well that when they sang alone for solo songs it never sounds quite as fantastic as when they’re doing their tunes together.

The bands get the audience down on the beery floor of the 9:30

In all their DC shows with sound systems, Wax, Slezak, and ensemble have left their microphones on stage and walked around the venues including Sixth and I, the Kennedy Center Millenium Stage, and now the 9:30 Club, where they walked around the upstairs and Suz stood on top of the bar.  As a special treat, both of the excellent opening bands, The Second String Band and Pearl and the Beard playing instruments and singing, also wandered the 9:30 with the David Wax Museum and quite possibly for the first time ever at the venue, the band convinced almost all of the first floor audience to sit on the beer-spilled glory of the 9:30 club’s floor while they played in the middle.  It was like being wrapped in a warm embrace of musician goodness when everyone sat quietly, adoring all three bands.  A guy behind us in the upstairs section said he felt as if he were witnessing a cult, and he had a point as we witnessed so many plop down on the that floor, covered in years worth of concert fluids.

Though the band’s sound is their own unique one, the David Wax Museum has more than a passing resemblance to another band who started out playing house parties and went on to the big time.  Back in 1994  the Dave Matthews Band opened up in the early day time to some nearly empty venues for Blues Traveler’s HORDE Tour before their album Under the Table and Dreaming propelled them to massive stardom.  Suz Slezak hails from the Charlottesville area, the home of the Dave Matthews Band.  Each time the band have played a venue in DC and at the Newport Folk Festival in 2011, where they went from the small stage last year to the main stage, their lineups have included Slezak’s fiddle, a great sax player and the front man on acoustic guitar, many of the same unique instruments the Dave Matthews Band employs for their popular sound.  And this year the David Wax Museum is playing the Dave Matthew’s Band‘s own festival, the Caravan, on its opening night in New York on the small stage.  How long could it be before The David Wax Museum is playing sold out stadiums and hosting its own festival?  Believe the hype.  It won’t be long at all.

The songs at the 9:30 ran the concert gamut from ballads to foot stomping, clapping, shaking numbers that had most of the audience moving.  A few are made for radio gems like the quick, fun “Yes, Maria, Yes,” “Born With a  Broken Heart,” and “The Persimmon Tree.”  The slower, gorgeous “The Least I Can Do” has a great line as the singer, speaking to someone he may regret he left behind sings “I don’t think of you all that much / Maybe once or twice each afternoon.”  I am listening to the David Wax Museum about once or twice each afternoon right now and you might be too pretty soon.  Don’t leave this band behind in your listening, or you may regret it when your friends tell you about them later.

Here’s their upcoming schedule in case you want to give them a try and join the cult of Wax.

And here’s NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, where we first heard of Wax in 2010.

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