Wednesday, March 28, 2007
THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT: Badly Drawn Boy Concert Review - Live at Webster Hall, NY, 3/7/07
Damon Gough is an artisan of sound. He has a seemingly effortless gift for melody, which is bolstered by the lushly beautiful, rich arrangements he sprinkles throughout his albums. And these lilting, often complex arrangements presaged the current indie trend of incorporating traditionally symphonic (or even gypsy) instruments, like French horn, trombone and cello, that we see with newer artists like Beirut and Sufjan Stevens. It's the kind of music that folks wind up identifying with as the soundtrack of their lives. Hence, it should come as no surprise that one of his most accomplished and best loved albums is the soundtrack to About A Boy.
Considering the sweet quality of his voice, what you get onstage in Damon Gough the performer seems like a disconnect. In person, it's not the honey-sweet, melodic tone that we find personified in front of us, but something more analogous to the boyish quality of his voice. What we see standing before us is a husky man-child, capable of being by turns both adorable and gruff, like the changing moods of a boy.
Watching Damon Gough is like watching a changing tide. He goes from hushed storytelling, giving anecdotal background behind how he wrote a song, to annoyance with himself at missing a lyric or note, giving up on a song mid-way like a frustrated kid. Frankly, I find the honest lack of pretense appealing. It's as if he's saying, "Yeah, so I f'ed up, on to the next one. It was bollocks, so who cares?"
This is not a highly glossed performance, packaged for mass consumption with a veneer of slickly choreographed Top 40 sheen. No, we leave that to the Justin Timberlakes of the world. Instead, this is a highly personal performance, with none of the artifice.
The presentation of his public persona is far more moody than his melodies would imply. But that's part of the entertainment with Damon Gough. The reality is a small thread of gruffness and a modicum of discomfort in the spotlight in front of adoring strangers.
That's not to say that he's an inexperienced or reluctant performer. On the contrary. It just means the Manchester native isn't looking to become a superstar with a spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Case in point: After moving to the keys, the flash of the photographer next to me in the photo pit distracted him enough to botch the opening of a tune. So he stopped and addressed her directly, "You've thrown me off." At which point he stood and said, "Alright, let's have it then," as he struck his best GQ male model pose. Which was ironically remeniscient of his faux fashion spread in Rolling Stone, dissecting the scruffy style of the badly drawn boy. He just looked like an adorable, overgrown kid, giving the photographer a hard time, while simultaneously being endearing, giving her a great shot, and the audience a good launch at the same time. At which point he sat back down at the keys and resumed the start of the song.
This is the Gough show, and so his touring band remained respectfully in the background. But what they lacked in flambuoyance, they made up for in their solid musical support. And this allowed Damon to let the strength of his songwriting shine through.
I'll be blunt -- I had wondered how he'd translate his lush studio orchestrations into a decidedly indie live show. I assumed it would just be him, solo, on an acoustic, as a standard backing band couldn't possibly convey the many layers of his arrangements. The fact that these tunes were everything an audience could have hoped they'd be is a real testament to his songwriting. No matter what the arrangement, lack of string section be damned, each song brought the same lyrical atmosphere, melodic tunefulness, and packed the same emotional punch as if he had all the strings and brass to back him.
Pared down to its indie underpinnings, softly solo, or majestically wrought, Badly Drawn Boy's music is beautiful, and translates just as beautifully live. And the live show provides a rare glimpse of the man behind the music. He, who captures emotion in song, and wears his moods on his sleeve... or shyly peeking out from under his trademark hat.
P.S. And you know what? I've never heard Webster sound so good. It's the first time I've seen them get it right.
--Videos From the Show
--Photo Gallery From the Show