Audiophiles: Taper Chris Davis makes concerts live forever 

The Taper

Who's the bigger live music fan? Is it the girl who hugs the rail, smooches the band after the show, and shrieks every time the guitarist rips a solo? Or is it the guy who waits at the door hours before the concert to assure he's the first one in, doesn't say a word throughout the performance, and is often the last one out the door?

Everyone has their own way of enjoying concerts, but no matter your flavor, we've all got to appreciate the folks willing to haul $2,000 worth of gear into a sweaty, stank-ass bar to record the show. At least once a week, Chris Davis is that guy in Charleston.

Davis co-owns the Mt. Pleasant furniture store Decorators Wholesale with his wife, Kelsie, and he moonlights as a waiter at Charleston Place. Sitting amidst rows of gorgeous Indonesian teak cabinets and shelves at his shop, it's evident from the excitement in his voice that recording live music is his true passion.

"How many times have we all gone to a show and said, 'Man, if only I had taped that?'" asks Davis, recalling a time during the HORDE tour when Chris Robinson ripped his shirt off and challenged anybody in the crowd to fight. "He berated the audience for like two and a half minutes. I would give anything to have that on tape!"

As a teenager in the early '90s, Davis got hooked on the Dead and began trading cassette tapes of live recordings, but never purchased his own gear. A few years ago, he started helping out tapers by watching their gear and keeping the crowd quiet around mics. In 2007, he and Kelsie flew to Telluride, Colo., planning to catch shows by Tishamingo, Jerry Joseph, and Tony Furtado. Charleston taper Todd Trego insisted Davis take Trego's gear. Davis returned home with pristine show recordings and a healthy new addiction.

"It's hard to get my wife really stoked about spending money on taping," says Davis. Still, he's acquired quite the rig, complete with pricey Peluso microphones on a ceiling-high boom stand, a powerful preamp, and a device that records high-quality WAV files.

"And that's not to mention the rule of thumb when hanging out with a taper at a show," he adds, straightfaced. "Don't talk. At all. You're going to hear chatter on your tapes, but you don't want to recognize the voices."

The night before sitting down with City Paper, he recorded jam-rockers Tea Leaf Green at the Pour House. Through his excitement and an imperceptible but frequently-noted hangover, he both bemoans and praises the state of Lowcountry taping.

"My favorite venue is the Pour House. I might as well be in my living room, the taping scenario is so comfortable, and the staff is so taper friendly," he says. "But Charleston has got to be the worst about talking during concerts. Moonalice (Tea Leaf's opener) played 'Stella Blue,' and it was beautiful, but the chatter on the recording is really bad."

Davis compromises and leaves the gear at home for shows like Bruce Springsteen, where taping was not allowed, and Widespread Panic in Myrtle Beach, when he knew his buddies had it covered.

"It was fun, but there's always this part of me that asks, 'What am I doing here?'" he says. "Why am I not standing under a stand with my arms crossed protecting my stuff?"

In his year and a half of actively taping, Davis lists this year's Ratdog show at the PAC and Ralph Stanley's Boone Hall performance in August among his favorites. He meticulously edits, formats, and uploads each recording to the online sharing website ETree. Because he's sharing music someone else created, he'll never make a dime.

"Everything has to be exactly perfect, and everything is shared with the community," says Davis. "My analogy is that taping is for Star Wars geeks who are just too old to play with Star Wars. And it's great that in the music community you get a lot of respect from tapers and concertgoers." —Stratton Lawrence

2008 Music Issue

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