Archive for February, 2010

Hi! How Are You? Daniel Johnston in Edinburgh

Posted in Reviews with tags , on February 28, 2010 by babydylan

In the weeks leading up to seeing Daniel Johnston perform at Queens Hall, I’d been kidding myself into believing that the show might be one of those ‘too good to be true fantasy gigs’ where your hoping/wishing/praying that it’s just going to be you and the artist and no one in between. The man who sold me the ticket muttered that only a very very small handful of people were excited about seeing “this guy” perform and that I was obviously one of them. It was at least two months before the show, and the second day I had been in Edinburgh and word of his forthcoming performance had obviously not caught on, judging by the giant stack of tickets behind the counter.

However something obviously changed, when we showed up we were confronted with a queue longer than any I had seen for a show – it stretched from the entrance of Queens Hall far down the street – full of hipsters wearing plaid, skinny jeans and the token ‘Hi How Are You? T’shirts and asking each other questions such as “Do I look like a Daniel Johnston fan” and “How long have you been a fan? I loved him before ’The Devil and Daniel Johnston’ came out”. Surely tonight wouldn’t become a competition of who has the most indy cred, the hipsters version of a pissing contest.

Thankfully the bravado died down once everyone was inside and seated, it was a sit down gig, and as the support act The Wave Pictures came out everyone settled down in a nervous anticipation. My game of ‘Spot the person not wearing the black framed glasses’ ceased, at least momentarily.

Lead vocalist David Tattersall sounded as though he’d swallowed Jeff Buckley and Lou Reed for breakfast, his pure smooth vocals delivered lines that bounced around the walls of the auditorium to finally hit you in the stomach (without of course causing any pain). Instead of the impatience that one can feel during a support act, most were left wanting more and if not that, at least The Wave Pictures cd.

In contrast, 2nd support act Laura Marling spent too long giggling and laughing about how ‘hopeless’ and ‘silly’ she was on stage, and of how she needed to ‘brush up on her stage banter’. Once past that however, she delivered strong ballads that although haunting, did little to win over those who hadn’t heard of her before that night (going by the response of myself and some guys I overheard in the toilets).

Daniel Johnston’s entrance onto the stage was a contrast to the hyper, overstated way he’s approached his music and art, as chronicled in The Devil and Daniel Johnston (the doco mentioned before that was probably a large contributor to the amount of people there). His strolled on with his guitar, some sheets of music and a bottle of water. A giant, greying grizzly bear of a man who reminds you of your adorable uncle who still lives in your grandparents basement. It took all my willpower to not run up and hug him. He waited for the applause to die down (it takes awhile), he arranged his music, he picked up his guitar and sang.

Later that night, me and a friend would tentatively describe the show as being one of the best worst live gigs we’ve ever been too. His guitar playing was harsh and violent, chords were frequently miss played and his voice cracked on more than one occasion, but that’s just being critical. However the mood was amazing, respect just seemed to radiate from the crowd, and as our applause grew after each song so to did the power of his voice. I had the feeling of, ‘oh mercy I must treasure every moment of this’ because I wasn’t sure If I would ever see him live again. Its as though everything came together, imperfections included, to create something awesome.

And this was just when he was by himself, after five or six songs he was joined by a guitarist, and then after another handful of tracks by The Wave Pictures, who stayed with him for the remainder of the set. It was with their support that Johnston belted out his infamous Beatles covers, tracks that worked surprisingly well in winning over the audience and doing justice to the original songs. Come Together was as highlight, as the chorus picked up his voice became smoother, proving that the trademark ‘tremor’ of his voice could become stronger once Johnston was joined by a good light show, great sound and an appreciative audience.

A few days after the show I learnt from a friend that Johnston was headlining at Melbourne’s laneway festival in late January. Ironic I thought, considering that I’d grabbed the ticket to the Edinburgh show because I was convinced I’d never have the opportunity to see him live again, and that after the show I left in a feverish excitement, convinced that no show could match the ’once in a lifetime’ quality of this one. At the time I thought it was implausible that he would travel across the pond and come to Aus. Obviously I was wrong. And If I chose to read too much into it (which I will do, because I am Eugene) and if hypothetically the exchange and everything else hadn’t happened and I was still back home, I would have been able to see him perform anyway. Too an obsessed little fan boy, this is a comforting thought,

Postscript: It took me ages to write this, so much so that since starting it Johnston has played his shows in Melbourne. What was everyone else’s take on it? those who went.