Nicholas David, a man of many hats, at an earlier Twin Cities gig/ Star Tribune photo by Kyndell Harkness
After making a national splash on NBC’s “The Voice,” Nicholas David came home to First Avenue this weekend to say: “I gotta be me.”
Any TV fan expecting an endless evening of a human jukebox – and there were clearly clubgoers who were at First Ave for the first time -- might have been disappointed by Saturday’s second of two sold-out nights. To be sure, David – who used to be billed as Nick the Feelin’ in the Twin Cities – reprised several of the numbers that led him to finishing No. 3 on “The Voice” last fall. Plus, he trotted out four other “Voice” contestants to join him.
But much of David’s nearly two hours onstage was devoted to original material, sort of 1970s-tinged soul music, some of which had a reggae undercurrent. Those selections, while not necessarily memorable, did establish that David, 32, is an incredibly soulful singer. But anyone who watched “The Voice” already knew that.
Nick Mrozinski, of Eagan, has certainly fashioned a distinctive image, with his LL Cool J cap, Bono sunglasses, Steven Tyler scarf, ZZ Top starter beard and college-professor suit. (Loved the top hat, with long, long feathers, he wore for Saturday's second set.) He’s got a mantra, frequently declaring “Hey now,” a catchphrase he may have copped from HBO’s “Larry Sanders Show” or from the lyrics of the New Orleans classic “Iko Iko.”
David certainly demonstrated a taste for Crescent City sounds, including his terrific reimagining of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which he took to a New Orleans church, emphasizing key phrases such as “I believe” that gave it a new-found gospel feel.
Some of the singer’s own tunes, including “Say Goodbye,” showed his flair for country soul. David is certainly versatile and prolific (he’s released five albums). He even had Twin Cities rapper Desdamona contribute to one tune on Saturday. He was backed by his Feelin’ Band, which included three backup vocalists, a saxophonist, two guitarists, bassist, keyboardist and drummer – as well as David on keyboards and acoustic guitar.
Of the four “Voice” alums who joined David, two of them detracted and two of them elevated the proceedings. Todd Kessler provided the high voice on a duet with David on Hall & Oates’ “She’s Gone.” Thankfully, David dominated, not Kessler with his garden-variety voice.
Melanie Martinez, who may be 17 or 18 but came across like 14, essayed two originals whose titles – “Dear Porcupine” and “Rough Love” – were the best thing about them. She joined David for Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” a smart arrangement that was, once again, all about David, not the other vocalist.
By contrast, Trevin Hunte nailed Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” though the soundman should have turned down the lead vocals a tad (and the bass guitar was too loud all night). Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” wasn’t a good choice for the talented Hunte because it lacks vocal range. Terry McDermott nicely complemented David on a duet of “Rhythm of Love.”
David’s mashup of a “Voice” revue and Feelin’ originals may not have been the show that clubgoers anticipated. But, whatever you expected, you might have come away with the impression that Nicholas David is perhaps the best male soul singer to emerge from the Twin Cities since Alexander O’Neal.