Danielle Ate The Sandwich
Red Horse Cafe
Saturday, September 10
Better than: Sitting through YouTube comedy sketches.
Danielle Ate The Sandwich is a young woman in thick-rimmed glasses from Colorado. She plays acoustic guitar, and sometimes the ukulele. If you purchase her self-titled debut album, from 2007, it comes snugly tucked into a hand-crafted felt case with a button sewn on to the front of it. She has an Etsy store (although at the moment its virtual shelves are barren). In the video for “Where The Good Ones Go” she layers a sundress over pants, and she’s surrounded by thrift store staples: a typewriter, a vintage suitcase, and mason jars filled with found objects. When she plays shows, she passes around a homemade tip jar covered in red fabric with small yellow apples patterned on it. Despite being from the other side of the country, Danielle seems an archetype for the sort of person you’d imagine sitting in a coffee shop in Brooklyn—writing in a journal, sketching in a notebook, or even knitting away the afternoon. You can envision her performing at the Brooklyn Flea in front of some repurposed barn doors with deliberately distressed blue paint.
Appropriately, Danielle’s second of two New York City shows was in a coffee shop nestled away on the corner of a block in the heartland of gentrified—or, nowadays, privileged—brownstone Brooklyn. But while the sound of an espresso machine brightly whistling while she played added a certain knowing ambiance to the night, having an art show open in the same venue an hour before her scheduled set meant that for the first four or five songs, she was forced to battle incessant chatter that sounded like the Brownstoner comments section come to life. (Who among us doesn’t come to a show to overhear someone talking about the house they’ve just bought on 18th Street?) Danielle’s voice is stronger and weightier than many an acoustic-hoisting singer-songwriter’s, but this clash made for an irritating start to what should have been an intimate show.
The idea of having to blot out part of the performance is common with Danielle, though. Her songs are gentle and tenderly written; she has a talent for making everyday scenes seem delicate and personal. “It’s harder to get up on the right side of the bed these days/ But steps in snow make me feel less alone,” she sings on the lovely “Afterwards,” a request from one of the few girls in the audience not also wearing glasses, and the song that closed out her set. In “On The Planet Earth,” a fragile lament to a departed love, she sings of rival girls who “know more about comic books than me.”
But Danielle—or Danielle Ate The Sandwich the brand, which boasts a merch line that includes stickers, badges, air fresheners, a clock, and even a foam finger—is also something of a YouTube celebrity. Her videos, most of which are filmed in and around her apartment, have a reputed 13 million views. (The story goes that she lucked out one day when one of her videos magically appeared on the video-sharing site’s homepage.) They’re nearly always prefaced by some usually unfunny banter (Danielle talking about the contents of her fridge) or contain some sort of quirky prop (a plastic chicken placed a little too studiously in the background). She’s also posted a short comedic sketch that attempts to riff on a peculiar buyer responding to a Craigslist ad for a drum machine. Even accounting for the subjective nature of comedy, the elements that don’t involve her songwriting and singing are so utterly unfunny they inspire both bemusement and outrage; it’s like the twee version of rap skits.
By couching her music in quirkiness, Danielle brings to mind those who use humor as a defense mechanism. On Saturday, “Handsome Girl,” “Bribes,” and the aforementioned tracks unraveled like especially personal songs that are deserving of being heard and related to on their own vulnerable merits—not because halfway through the show she decided to place a life-size cardboard cut-out of Justin Bieber next to her. (She also kissed the cut-out at one point.)
The bio on Danielle’s website attempts to place her as “Joni Mitchell meets Sarah Silverman,” but she’s more accurately the inverse of Silverman, whose comedy is funny but whose songs (usually about poop) are not. The demands for maintaining Internet fame may explain a lot of the attempted comedy baggage, but most times you’re left trying to block it out. Listening to her perform live in a Park Slope coffee shop involved a different kind of audio blinkers—although I still bought two CDs before leaving. One had a green button stitched on the front of it.
Critical bias: The rude chatter from the art show attendees probably predisposed me against what was on the walls. .
Overheard: [Sound of espresso being made]
Random notebook dump: 90% of the girls in the audience were also wearing thick-framed glasses. Demographics!