082411 Surprise Me Mr. Davis, Ottawa, ON

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On August 24th, 2011 I went to the Elmdale House Tavern to see Surprise Me Mr. Davis.  For those unfamiliar with one, the other, or both: The Elmdale Tavern opened in Ottawa’s Westboro neighbourhood in the 1930’s.  At the time of this show it was still an old-school drinking hole (with Labatt’s 50 on tap and a huge jar of pickled eggs on the bar) that had started hosting the occasional hippie-centred band.  All too soon it would get taken over by a highfalutin seafood mini-chain and was utterly gentrified into an oyster bar that has since closed down.  Surprise Me Mr. Davis was Boston patchouli trio The Slip with guitarist Nathan Moore and keyboardist Marco Benevento added into the mix.  And if you’re anything like me, both the bar and the band were right up your alley.

(I don’t know why, but whenever I would glance up from the band and notice the backwards letters N R E V A T in the upper part of the bar’s front window I would invariably feel a detached nostalgia for all the taverns my dad drank in back when I was a little kid.)

Of course most of the Ottawa crowd was out for this show and why wouldn’t they be?  Marco Benevento had played the same room ten months earlier in a show that instantly became legend, with good reason, and we were all hankering for another great night of music.  We got it.  The band played one big huge set (even the encore came fully attached) of great jammy groovy dancy fun that included a blissful fingers-in-the-air cover of AC/DC’s It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ’N’ Roll).  Otherwise it was all-original SMMD material.  While I’m a fair-to-middling fan of The Slip I can’t really name you many of their songs but I’m pretty sure they didn’t play any of them at this show.  

We danced, we stared, we high-fived, we drank, we laughed, we had long extended conversations in the bathroom, and when it was done we all went over to Chris and Rosemary’s astoundingly convenient house across the street for an epic afterparty.  

It’s really too bad that the Elmdale didn’t become what it was on it’s way to being, though I suspect it would probably have closed down regardless.  But oh, the music we would have enjoyed along the way!  As it was, I’m pretty sure I was only in the bar one time after this.  It was a Sunday afternoon show after the upscale renovations and I recall my friend Tony D was playing guitar, and maybe Mike Essoudry was on drums too*?  Anyway, the music was certainly local (and very good – don’t get me wrong), people all around me were eating oysters and ordering charcuterie trays and it was daylight outside…a wholly different vibe.  

As for the band, after co-existing for several years as both The Slip and Surprise Me Mr. Davis, The Slip disbanded and two-thirds of the band moved to Montreal and formed The Barr Brothers, who’s fame has completely eclipsed either of the previous incarnations.  Despite or because of this, The Slip have since reformed and now they co-exist with The Barr Brothers.  No word on whether or not SMMD still exists.  It reads like the intro from an episode of Soap.

*I just came across it: it was Bumpin’ Binary (which is a duo featuring Don Cummings on the B3 organ and my good friend Mike Essoudry on the drums) playing at the Elmdale on March 29th, 2015 with Tony D sitting in on the guitar (Tony’s longtime sax player Zeke Gross sat in for a bunch of songs too).  My late friend Bradm taped the show and uploaded the recording to archive.org where you can listen to it anytime you want.  Incidentally that is where he also uploaded his recording of the Surprise Me Mr. Davis show that is the focus of today’s story (Bradm recorded a lot of shows).  I’m listening to it right now and I was mistaken; SMMD definitely played at least one or two The Slip songs.  

Click HERE to listen to Surprise Me Mr. Davis at The Elmdale.

Click HERE to listen to Bumpin’ Binary at The Elmdale.

Thanks Bradm.

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