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The world is so ironically Urban Outfitted that, sometimes, it’s hard to tell whether or not people actually mean what they say and do. Does everyone, as the T-shirt claims, really love an Italian girl? Is the girl rocking that T-shirt even Italian? There are so many layers to the insincerity, and it doesn’t take a lot of balls to say something you don’t mean. Baby Dayliner (a.k.a. New York native Ethan Marunas) is a musician who, at first glance, seems down with that ironic shtick. After a while, though, you realize he’s not winking at anyone.
Of course, this took me a while to figure out. During the show, I kept trying to mentally re-outfit Marunas in terms of the image I thought he was going for, and the jeans and bandana he was wearing weren’t part of it. The image I had in mind was a combination of Rick Astley and the lead singer of Spandau Ballet, and there’s just no need for that pompadour-lip-gloss hybrid beast; it’s been done.
“Baby D” didn’t chat much with the crowd at Mercury Lounge. He seemed focused on the music, and his aloofness begat mystery that begat intrigue. All this begetting was very biblical. Girls in the crowd yelled up to him, “You’re so hot!” and my new favorite compliment, “You’re sexual!”, but, through it all, he remained unfazed. I don’t blame them—he is good-looking, a cross between River Phoenix and Kevin Bacon before Bacon got freakishly thin.
Prior to the show, Marunas stood on stage with his band, tuning instruments and setting up. When he took to the stage for real, he performed solo for the first set—just him and an assortment of prerecorded backing tracks. It was like karaoke: a confident, crooning voice aided by layers of poppy, synth-y beats. Add to that some shuffling dance moves, some marching in place, and a handkerchief waving at the crowd, and you see why intrigue so abounded. It didn’t matter how he was dressed or what he did; he just had a presence. You couldn’t take your eyes off him.
This first, five-song set closed with “Whodunit?”, a tune that deserves its own dance craze. I don’t know what he had in mind when he wrote it, but every time I hear it, I imagine a noir-ish private-eye love story set in ‘50s Havana. I want a dance that catches all of that, you hear me, Baby? Just, you know, so I have something to do besides bop up and down while bearing the weight of my messenger bag.
Marunas’ four-piece band, the Inflections, came on for the second half of the show, which consisted mainly of songs from Baby Dayliner’s Critics Pass Away, released last May. Marunas knows how to write genre-blending music, and his playful lyrics keep everyone on the same page—he makes sure to aim the music right at us instead of over our heads. There’s clever, hip-hoppy wordplay and social awareness all over his music, especially in songs like “At Least”: “The end of the line is lonely, like a heart without a homie/ Like a star without a galaxy, like a star without a movie.” This song could be the theme for a washed-up celeb-reality show on VH1. Live, however, it’s a sincere nod to the past, an ode to being okay with what you’ve accomplished. An ode with a beat you can dance to.
Baby Dayliner has thought things out; there are no uncalculated moves in his show. He dances when he wants to dance, plays what he wants to play, and wears what he wants to wear. I get that now. Not many people could pull it off—the music is fresh and fun, but all those layers and orchestration don’t leave a lot of room for improvisation. The combination of talent and stage presence kept his show from getting stale or embarrassing, which it would have been if he’d gone even one degree off-course into the sea of irony.
Baby Dayliner - The Way You Look Tonight [Live at NYC’s R&R night at Rare in April 2006]