Davy Rothbart & Found Magazine at Precinct 5/10/2009 – Somerville, MA

Found Magazine events are a perfect illustration of our culture’s short attention span and collective varied interests. Equal parts art show, poetry reading, concert, and stand up comedy routine, The Denim and Diamonds Tour has something for everyone. On the road promoting the release of his new book, Davy Rothbart, and his brother Peter, gamely overcame a less than ideal performance space at Precinct to entertain a packed house of around 150 people.

For the uninitiated, Found Magazine, is a zine started by Davy and some friends several years ago to document interesting items found ‘blowing down the street’. Over the years, Found has put out 6 issues and a couple books, to boot. Found is a collective art project in the vein of PostSecret, and relies on submissions from people all over the world. The latest book, Requiem for a Paper Bag: Celebrities and Civilians Tell Stories of the Best Lost, Tossed, and Found Items from Around the World is a collection of stories of things found by actors, authors, musicians, etc, and came out last week. While most book tours feature afternoon signing/reading events in big city bookstores, each of the Found books has been promoted with a tour schedule closer to that of a band. The Denim and Diamonds tour is going to hit 57 cities in 62 days. Take that, Grisham.

I had been curious how the night would start, and then it just did with Davy introducing himself and reading a series of found items relating to love and relationships. This intro in honor of a close friend in attendance who had just gotten engaged. Found love notes are a good medium for the sincere Rothbart, whose heart is worn clearly on his sleeve (even if he tries to hide it by wearing a sleeveless throwback George Gervin basketball jersey). Favorite lines from this part include, “I don’t want any other girl to remember my number. Not even Iesha” and “PS I want to build a life together.”

After a stack of Davy’s “favorite notes” (a common refrain used to describe each stack), he introduced his brother, Peter, to play a couple songs inspired by found items. The last, a cover version of a found demo tape called ‘The Booty Don’t Stop’, had the crowd signing along by the first chorus. Peter’s bare-bone singing style fits the feeling of the show and compliments well Davy’s earnest effusiveness. I would have liked to see more than the 3 songs he played.

Davy then came back to read a story from his book by filmmaker Jim Carrol about an unlucky soldier who, after spending 20 years in the most uncomfortable and disgusting conditions imaginable, was freed from his bondage by an afternoon colonic. More found items followed this, along with an uncensored reading of a story, an edited version of which had appeared on This American Life. Favorites from this section were, “Help us bring the darkness” and, “It’s not kinky, it’s gross.”

For the most part, my experience with Found has been seeing the items online or looking at the books or magazines, so I enjoyed hearing them read, and almost acted, by Davy. It’s fascinating how words on a found note can grab you, even without any contextual details. Hearing them read out loud heightens that experience. The sappy missives of lovesick teenagers are moving, the mundane to-do lists of strangers are hilarious.

I did an interview with Davy in advance of the show where he explained his approach:

“…When you read these notes, you find yourself tearing up or laughing out loud. I think ultimately when I’m reading them during and an event it’s the same kind of thing. I try to be really present with that item, that note, and the person that wrote it.”

This presence with the notes and compassion for the writers touches the audience and makes Davy an engaging performer. You could have left last night without making a connection to one of the found items, but if you did, you’re probably missing a soul.

Precinct’s small elbow shaped show room was made smaller by a dozen patrons who had dragged bar stools into the front of the stage (and 3 who were oddly sitting on the stage) taking up twice as much room as someone standing, but the crowd remained rapt for the entire hour and fifteen minute performance and left happy. A Found Event would be better enjoyed in a theater setting, but it’s not clear Davy and Peter want to leave the dank club rooms behind.

Davy Rothbart & Found Magazine at Precinct 5/10/2009 – Somerville, MA

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