Yes, he’s got the look. He’s lean, muscular, and has that laid back coolness he exudes on the screen. He just looks Hollywood. The cries of “take your shirt off”, and there are several of them, tell you the sex appeal is alive and kicking.
Yes, he’s got some moves. David Duchovny looks like he’s observed some of the trademark shimmies, sways, knee raises and hand gestures you need behind the microphone.
And yes, he’s got the patter. A few jokes, some at his own expense – “I think I pulled a hammy” – get him on the right side of his small audience at the Power Station in Auckland on Tuesday night. A “tiny but mighty” crowd, as he puts it.
But this is packaging, so let’s get to the big questions. What’s the music like? It’s rock, most of it is mid tempo stuff, and it’s delivered by an excellent band. “When the Whistle Blows” has a hard driving bluesy riff, “Every Third Thought” is funky, and “Half Life” has that alt rock feel you might expect from an artist who’s influenced by Wilco. Duchovny’s band is tight and sharp and on its game. Lead guitarist Pat McCusker is a stand out.
The lyrics though are another matter. The subject matter is fair enough: love, loss, break ups, reflections on life. There’s an occasional apt observation, like “We can’t undo the hurt that’s been done, We can’t un-win the battles we’ve won” from When The Whistle Blows. But in the same song we have “There’s no place called the past, but I got to get there fast”. Ouch. And lines like “ Half my life by your side, through thick or thin, rain or shine”, from Half Life, are, well, unremarkable.
Still, if you say song writing is a craft, you give Duchovny credit for keeping at it. After all he’s not a one album celebrity wonder. He’s here – and playing Wellington’s San Fran tonight – with a second album to promote.
We’re leaving the biggest question to last. Can the guy sing? Well, a tune is carried, but not in an inspiring way. Duchovny’s voice is low, almost in a Leonard Cohen style (one of his heroes, apparently, referenced in a song last night) and he doesn’t really try to hit any high notes. To be fair, it’s a bit of a drone. Now that can work, as Cohen demonstrated, but if you’re performing rock songs with a kick ass band you need a voice to suit.
David Duchovny obviously knows this and he doesn’t seem too concerned. Four of the five band members sing, and sing well. The biggest nod to his singing deficiencies is in the encore, when the band plays a cover of Don’t Dream It’s Over. They play it superbly well, but as Duchovny tells us, it’s too high for him, so he hands vocal duties over to keyboard player Colin Lee, who tackles the song more than admirably. Duchovny points his microphone out towards the audience throughout, conducting their contribution to the choruses. He doesn’t sing at all.
If he keeps the band together, and if there are improvements to be made in the vocals, you’d probably forgive him some corny lyrics. On stage, Duchovny doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously, and that makes him a likeable character. At the same time he works hard to engage his audience in that slightly aloof smouldering way. His sweat soaked shirt is testimony to that. Around me, many are enjoying what they were see and hear. Whether that’s because of a genuine appreciation of the music, or because of the buzz of having a celebrity in front of them, it’s hard to say. Probably a combination of both.
David Duchovny places at the San Fran in Wellington on Wednesday 21st February.
Thanks to Rachel van Luyt for photography