There are others, notably: Billy Bob Thornton, Kevin Bacon, and, well, David Hasselhoff. Thankfully, David Duchovny — beloved as The X-Files‘ studly special agent Fox Mulder, reviled and worshipped as the Bukowski-esque Hank Moody on Californication — has no illusions about how he became an actor-turned-singer who played to swooning women in Webster Hall’s Marlin Room last night.
Duchovny, 55, wrote his first-ever song a mere three years ago, observing, “I’m lucky enough to have been a well-known actor. I’m not under the delusion that [my] music is out there because somebody said, ‘That’s a hit!’ It’s because I have profile. But on the other hand, I also feel like the music has a lot of merit on its own.”
As he takes the stage with his six-piece band, the crowd — 90 percent females of varying age, mixed with some X-Files diehards (two of whom proclaim the set to be “surprisingly good”) — screams as if David Duchovny is the David Cassidy of the new millennium. Which apparently he is, to this bunch, as was proven by the frequent shouted requests to “Take off your shirt!” and the one pair of panties tossed onstage.
Though he’s only got one album out — this year’s Hell or Highwater — he still turned in a 90-minute set of his mainstream Americana–tinged rock, peppered with frequent asides to update the Mets score in game one of the World Series. (A New York City native, Duchovny is apparently a Yankees fan, but hey, playing to the crowd…) Kicking off with one of the strongest songs on the album, “3000,” which features a slight staccato vocal delivery/edge akin to Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger,” Duchovny and his tight band did seventeen songs in an hour and a half, giving the crowd more than their money’s worth — and probably more than was advisable, given the preponderance of midtempo songs.
Being as Hell or Highwater bears numerous allusions to water (the title track; “Let It Rain”; “The Rain Song”), it’s apropos that onstage, as both a vocalist and frontman, Duchovny is still finding his sea legs. At times he’s like a monotone, less confident Tom Petty — witness “The Things” — while others find him taking on a closer vocal resemblance to Chris Isaak or the Church’s Steve Kilbey.
Most lacking: powerful dynamics and force in Duchovny’s competent but middle-of-the-road voice and presence. Still, a couple songs shone, notably the energetic “Unsaid Undone” and the spirited foot-stomper “Another Year.” Those served as welcome rave-ups in a set heavy with prosaic tuneage despite Duchovny’s likable persona and close connection to the audience. Adding depth and interest were a couple of well-chosen and well-executed covers nodding to his musical proclivities: Sly and the Family Stone’s classic “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” and the somewhat more obscure Flaming Lips tune “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1.”
But when all’s said and done, objectively, Hell or Highwater is still simply the first album from a new artist, and from that perspective, Duchovny’s off to a decent start. However, as the actor noted pre-show, he’s never had “rock star dreams”: “No, no no no, God no. I’m just singing some songs. This album is kind of heavy, and when you come out and play a venue like [Webster Hall], you want to have a good time. There’s a disconnect between the words and performance aspect that you’re trying to bridge. I’m trying to be entertaining in a superficial way. I hope you listen to the lyrics.”
He’s spot-on in his assessment. The lyrics are personal, literary, literate, sometimes amusing. The live show is light and easy. Again, finding those sea legs — a confident stage posture and a powerful vocal delivery — doesn’t come overnight, and he’s been playing out for less than a year. “I worry about succumbing to rock ‘n’ roll clichés,” he confessed before the gig, “but you get up there and it happens naturally. It just comes out of your mouth. All of a sudden I’m going up to the guitarist and talking to him, that sort of stupid shit. You kinda wanna do that when you’re up there.”
The truth is out there, and right now, the truth is that Duchovny has written some good, heartfelt songs, and needs to find the passion and proper medium/venue for his musical message. It’s hard to be influenced by Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and perceived as a hunky TV star. As a musician/singer, he’s a work in progress — and Duchovny gladly admits to that. “It really is three songs and the truth. I’m not reinventing anything,” he concludes. “And nobody has in a long time.”