David Berman—the Myth, the Man, the Silver Jew—in Williamsburg


Not the Music Hall of Williamsburg

The Music Hall of Williamsburg’s floor was wet with the remnants of two hurricanes―outside, Hanna; inside, beer-splattering Israeli psych-berserkers Monotonix―when Silver Jews leader David Berman delivered his own storm. In Brooks Brothers-like duds, double-thick glasses, and post-ironic hipster combover, the songwriter played the wizened fool―a bumbling, scholarly rendition of David Byrne’s big suited intensity in Stop Making Sense. Perfectly spastic, Berman projected his surrealism over the murmuring Saturday crowd.

“Smith and JONES forever,” he barked on the opener, untangling his cable and doing battle with the mic stand. Using it as a Chaplin-like prop, Berman at various points reknotted the chord around it, accidentally pulled out his in-ears monitors, and (after knocking it over) tripped harmlessly on it, walking backwards. Relaxing, Berman delivered wry lines with robust weirdness―”wrote a letter to a wildflower on a classic nitrogen afternoon,” on 1998’s “The Wild Kindness,” sung mid-set―clutching the mic while stalking, guitarless and slightly hunched, around the stage. Eighteen years into life as a Silver Jew, but only two into life as a performer, the 41-year old Berman sometimes seemed like an amnesiac fronting a reunion of a band that never existed.

Less a myth now and more an actual, touring singer-songwriter with an actual, touring group (with an actual, new album to promote), Berman’s allure could easily diminish. But he’s got that deep backstory―ranging from a partnership with Stephen Malkmus to trying to overdose in the hotel suite where Al Gore conceded the 2000 election, so he could “die where the presidency died”―which provides plenty to consider while Berman goes about his less-than-mythical business, not the least of which is the fact that he is a likable performer with a crisp band. “I guess my message is that the growing good of the world depends partly on historic acts,” he proclaimed before the set-closing “We Could Be Looking For the Same Thing.” For David Berman (and perhaps the world) maybe touring is it. ― Jesse Jarnow

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