Live Review: Daniel Johnston 8-12-09

Daniel Johnston

“They went and called the movie ‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston.’  Now how am I ever going to be free?!”

Such were the thoughts of an artists whose demons are almost more famous than he is.  It’s not too wild to bet that Daniel Johnston’s image will never truly be liberated from the conflicted, eccentric man portrayed in the aforementioned award-winning documentary about his life.  Surely, many of the audience members at his Wednesday night concert were drawn there in anticipation of the “grand spectacle” of Daniel Johnston rather than the sole attraction to his music.

He’s not alone.  Watching talent and genius unravel is practically a universal human pastime.  The presence of madness, addiction, and illness have sold more tickets over the history of rock music than we’d likely be comfortable believing.  (Just ask Lou Reed, Amy Winehouse or Shane MacGowan…)

Be that as it may, the Daniel Johnston who stepped onstage to greet his Madison crowd turned the tables and delivered a performance that alternatively made a spectacle of his doubters.  It’s not often that an artist moves me to tears, but I’m not ashamed to say that the intensity, sweetness and honesty of Johnston’s performance caused my eyes to flood over during the show and now again, as I reflect upon the magic that he brought to The Annex earlier this evening.

He gripped the microphone with shaking hands as if he were holding on for dear life.  From the heartfelt, acoustic sing-a-longs (including a cover of the Beatles’ “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”) to the raucous, danceable second set with openers Marty Finkel and Mark Waldoch stepping in as his backing band, Johnston had fans and hanging on his every word.

And what incredible words they were.  For example, during “Grievances,” he delivered one verse steeped in stark seriousness (“Well it just goes to show you that we’re all on our own/Scrounging for our own share of good luck/Stab your brother in the back/And pick up your paycheck”) before he barreled into a bittersweet  and painfully honest joke with the next (“Good-bye lonely heart drawings/You never did work anyhow/I’m looking for a nice girl/And I don’t want no cow”). The coupling of his sweetly humorous between-songs-anecdotes with his heartbreak and alienation-filled tunes was just about as endearing as it gets.

“Ok, we’re going to go pretend [that we’re done], and then come back for the encore,” he said at the end of the night, with a smile.  (By the way, it’s about time someone exposed that whole encore facade for what it really is. Kudos, Dan.)  Dutifully, he returned to the stage and closed with what was (in his words) “a Christmas wish” for us all:  his modern classic, “True Love Will Find You In The End.”  It was a beautiful way to bring such a special evening to a close.

Thanks for an unforgettable show, Daniel.

–Shelley Peckham

Were you there?  What were your impressions from Daniel Johnston’s show?  Keep your eyed peeled for video from the show to pop up on our True Endeavors YouTube page within the very near future!

6 Responses

  1. This was an unforgettable show…great review Shelley!

  2. View the entire performance now on our YouTube page!

  3. This was an unforgettable show…great review Shelley!; This was an unforgettable show…great review Shelley!;;

  4. That photo of him makes him look like a fat Kurt Cobain.

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