This may be a first for me: The same night Badly Drawn Boy was scheduled to play upstairs at the Swedish American Hall, the honest-to-goodness Swedish Society held a meeting downstairs. Though we didn't have as many yummy snacks as the Swedes, I have no doubt Damon's gig matched them in December cheer.
Badly Drawn Boy, Swedish American Hall, December 14, 2010: I don't take recommendations lightly, and in fact, I refrain from making them except under specific circumstances--typically, after we've been locked in a room for weeks on end, I've noted every song you've ever sung or hummed to yourself, and I've issued major caveats in terms of which tune you might like and which ones to avoid. By the time I dredge up a name, it's more a warning than a tip, regardless of how much I love the artist.
Case in point: Badly Drawn Boy. I unequivocally love the guy, but there's always a question as to which Damon Gough will show up at any given concert. Will he be petulant, exultant, or cocky? And behind those faces, will he reveal the fanboy defending his devotion to Bruce Springsteen, the proud father who passes around pictures of his children to the audience, or the barfly who happens to be holding the microphone? There's only one way to find out: See him for yourself.
You could probably be forgiven for pigeonholing Damon based on his gruff appearance and confident sound bites, but take the time to listen, and his classic songwriting chops jump out. In a solo setting, those basics pop even more, notably his lovely voice and his way with melodies. "The Shining" is one for the ages, and it lived up to its legend this evening, but he changed up several tracks without a backing band behind him. For example, "Once Around the Block" benefited from his use of loopers, while on a lo-fi tip, we tried to help, as requested, with a whistling outro on "You Were Right."
Damon wasn't entirely on his own, however. A few friends popped in, including Mike on electric guitar, Steve on piano, and the opener Justin Jones on tambourine. Steve almost stole the show with an old routine in which he made a grand gesture of holding up an index finger for all the audience to see, then used it to accompany Damon on "Magic in the Air." Less dramatically, he appeared to be using more than a single digit to fill out the rest of the song, but who cares when it sounds that good? Justin had a harder time keeping a straight face, but his grins and giggles spoke for all of us.
Damon has never been shy about chatting it up between songs, and he didn't hold back tonight. Among the more inspired conversational threads was an extended riff on the audience handbook and its lessons on when we're allowed and/or encouraged to cheer, clap, and engage with the performer. We eventually picked up on the hints, though Damon continued to offer guidance when the instructions escaped us.
The solo setting also allowed Damon some leeway in his choice of covers, including Richie Havens' "I Can't Make It Anymore" early in the set and the standby "Like a Virgin" intro for the always fantastic "Silent Sigh." (Madonna also came up in Damon's own lyrics for "You Were Right.") But there's no doubt Damon saved the best for last when he cited a song from 1983 as a major influence on his life, explained his use of backing vocal tracks, then serenaded us with "Thunder Road." In the course of the performance, he shook hands with everyone in the front row of the audience before settling down in a chair to simply belt it out. If that isn't a sign of a man of the people, I don't know what is, and it's precisely this mix of humility and brashness that makes the best Badly Drawn Boy gigs so memorable.
Justin Jones opened up the show, and he held his own against such a personality as Badly Drawn Boy. As a songwriter and performer, Justin is entirely in my wheelhouse with stark, emotional songs and deep delivery, leavened by sardonic asides and banter. I've seen his name show up on my local concert calendar now and again, and I plan to investigate further when he returns to town.
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