Friday, February 8, 2008

The unlikely star wins over another crowd

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I headed to the Metro to see the infamous Daniel Johnston. I’ve seen parts of the film The Devil and Daniel Johnston, which documents Johnston’s debilitating battle mental illness, but I’ve also heard great critical acclaim for his music from such venerable artists as Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.

However, I have to say I was pleased with what I heard. Despite any of his own personal quirks and eccentricities, Johnston’s performance was charming and full of energy.

Johnston began his set alone; he played (what appeared to be) a small ukulele. His solo performance greatly echoed the low-fi cassette tape recordings that gave him such notoriety amongst casual listeners and professional musicians alike.

As the concert progressed, Johnston added more players to the ensemble. A musician Johnston introduced as an old college friend accompanied him on acoustic guitar. The addition of an adept instrumentalist tremendously changed the atmosphere of the show; the sounds of Johnston’s trademark low-fi recordings disappeared into something more professional and polished. I adored his cover of the Beatles’ song “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” — Johnston passionately screamed the chorus as if he was addressing a stadium filled with people rather than the intimate crowd of Metro.

After a short intermission, Johnston returned with a full backing band that included Scott Masson and Tom Smith of the opener OFFICE. The additions to the stage finally gave listeners the excellent instrumental backing Johnston’s endearing and honest lyrics deserve. The show closed triumphantly; to quote one raucous audience member, “Daniel Johnston, you’re a GENIUS!” - Katherine Champagne