— Michael Roberts
David Berman, the singer-songwriter behind the Silver Jews, has spoken honestly and openly about subjects that cause most of us to hit the mute button, including problems with drugs and alcohol, and even a suicide attempt. Still, he only regrets being so candid when "I see it taking up 25 words of a fifty-word review," he maintains — and besides, "I have worse secrets for which the other ones cover up."
Could be — but on the surface, Berman's more together than he's ever been. For most of the Silver Jews' life span, he declined opportunities to tour: "I questioned the procedure out of fear," he admits. That changed with the release of 2005's Tanglewood Numbers, and he's playing live again in support of his latest disc, the highly idiosyncratic and equally enjoyable Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea. "It's good for me" to be on the road, he believes. "It's social exercise at a time in my life when I'd been hardening into an arbitrary shape back home." In addition, he's embraced the Judaism his band's name references but that he'd previously kept at arm's length — and the impact of faith on his life has been wholly positive. According to him, "It's given me courage. It's shown me the ways of kindness and humility. It's given me a grasp of history and a way forward, come whatever."
Silver JewsWith Monotonix, 8 p.m. Sunday, October 5, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, $15, 303-830-8497.
In the beginning (the late '80s), Berman was known mostly for the company he kept — specifically singer/guitarist Stephen Malkmus and drummer Bob Nastanovich, who'd soon make their reputations as key components in Pavement. Their presence on Silver Jews releases caused some observers to see the band as a Pavement spinoff, even though Berman, an acclaimed poet who first picked up a guitar in his twenties, wrote all the material.
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Over time, however, fans and critics alike came to appreciate Berman in his own right, and Lookout Mountain, on which neither Malkmus nor Nastanovich appears, demonstrates why. The recording is filled with distinctive and often humorous imagery — like the offhand reference to "sarcastic hair" in "San Francisco, B.C." But his work's just as memorable when he dials down the wordcraft, as on "We Could Be Looking for the Same Thing," which started out complicated and got simpler. "It was full of images, and I had to pour them out and start from scratch a few times," he acknowledges. "Everything I write goes through a lot of drafts. A hundred rewrites is not unusual for me to go through — the last fifty maybe just going back and forth on a single line or word selection."
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Apparently, obsessive perfectionism is another secret he doesn't mind spilling.