I knew of Benny Davis through his band The Axis of Awesome. Recognising the name I was curious to discover what his solo show would be like.
I’m not alone; while I mingled with the crowds outside the Gilded Balloon Teviot I overheard “Axis of Awesome” mentioned many times. The fact that Benny Davis was standing outside playing tunes on his little breath powered keyboard helped but it is the recognition factor here that’s important.
The Gilded Balloon seem to be insisting on a fill from the front policy this year, very annoying, but thankfully this musical comedian does not terrorise the audience. I had a perfect view from the front. I sat and listened as a man who really enjoys music but who knows nothing about it. I’ll admit it; some of the jokes flew over my head.
Actually, it’s worse than that – there were times I was struggling to keep up. I appreciated the music but in one portion of the act the cleverness of the blending was above me. When Benny moved on to deliberately wreck a mashup, the joke being how badly the pieces fitted together, I didn’t get it. I just assumed I wasn’t keeping up.
That particular scene turned from “Huh” to “haha” in seconds. Whether by accident or by design, Davis turned that moment into comedy (so surely I wasn’t alone!) and the laughs came.
Whether I was able to keep up with the whole act or not I was certainly impressed and amused. Benny Davis must be some sort of musical master. He hears music in a way that must leave other professional musicians wrecked with jealousy. The core of the act is this – if he’s heard it; he can play it. To begin with the audience was shouting out songs for him to play; “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!” was one request, “Mario!” was another to which Davis asked whether they wanted any particular level and then played a sample.
It’s more than just the ability to re-create music, though, the act ends with random suggestions coming from written slips of paper and Davis not only playing them but merging them into the song that came before and the one that came next.
I was impressed when I sat down and saw one keyboard, two microphones and a fancy collection of pedals. Is he going to play the keyboard and the pedals at the same time, I wondered, and could he possibly use both microphones separately? The answer: oh yes.
As it happens I enjoyed the show along with my partner who is far more musically apt and educated than me. She simply loved it – and wants to go back, recognising it’ll be different with each time. Whereas I played the game of trying to spot all the songs/music I recognised in a single part of show, my partner was able to appreciate it more fully and recognise how Davis played with your musical assumptions, not just blending tunes but blending your expectations.
A video to finish. This is the Four Chords Song that you may find referenced through the act and a good sample of the Davis’ musical mastership. Some NSFW lyrics.