Daniel Johnston: Live Last Night
By David Malitz
A Daniel Johnston show is as much a support group as a concert. The 48-year-old cult favorite is known as much for his gleefully deranged outsider pop songs as for his well-publicized battles with personal demons such as bipolar disorder. Both of those aspects were well represented during his brief set at the 9:30 club Tuesday that ran the gamut from uncomfortable to sweet to cathartic. But whenever there was a moment of doubt from Johnston or an awkward slice of silence, a shout of "We love you Daniel!" was always there to lighten the mood.
(I went to a Daniel Johnston show and a Beatles concert broke out, after the jump.)
Johnston admitted to some nervousness on the first night of his tour. And his idea of a joke was telling a story about a dream in which he got arrested for trying to commit suicide. It's debatable whether it was an actual joke because there didn't seem to be a punchline. The show was split into two sections -- first was a seven-song solo acoustic set that was unsurprisingly ragged. Johnston glanced at a lyrics sheet while singing his naive, absurdist lyrics ("You think that its soup and that its your friend/But its already gone and poop in the end") and playing choppy, imprecise chords. He closed this portion with a cover of the Beatles' "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" and when opening act the Capitol Years joined him for the show's second half, "Help!" was the first song performed. He then noted, "This is a nightmare." The crowd urged him on.
"Speeding Motorcycle" was the kind of song that makes you appreciate Johnston as a legit pop-savant and not just a curiosity, a lighthearted romp with big hooks and a singalong chorus. But it was the cover of John Lennon's heart-wrenching "Isolation" that proved the most memorable moment. As he clutched the microphone with both hands shaking, shouting "But then again you're not to blame/You're just a human/A victim of the insane," it was hard not to be moved.
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