Liverpool Music Week: Daniel Johnston, The Masque

Posted on 4 November 2009
By Amy Roberts
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Liverpool Music Week presents
Daniel Johnston + guests
The Masque

Five hours is a long time in the gig world with which to wait between the first and last act, particularly on a school night. And Liverpool – notorious for its rambunctious, inexcusable magnetism towards intoxication and free stuff (I’m a native and allowed to make such observations) doesn’t handle those five hours well. At all.

It’s not all our fault. Presented with some explosively tantalizing performances from the ever outstanding audio-nymph-rackets of aPAtT and Stig Noise (fuck drugs – just put your head inside a speaker at an aPAtT gig and you’ll see inside the bashed in brains of your own divine existence), we’re revved up and ready by 10.30pm.

Beer flows, the smoking area is packed tighter than a Chinese commuter train and people inexplicably pile in out of nowhere, wild eyed and over-excited. Daniel Johnston’s not on stage till 12.30 and already the place is crammed so close that you need a crowbar to get out of it.

The theatre is rammed with facial expressions detailing sleepiness, drunkenness and alarm (‘How do I get to the bar?’ ‘I’m not going to make it to the bogs before I piss myself!’ ‘Where’ve me mates gone?’ ‘Whose this random man rubbing his thigh against me?!’). Every action and sound made on the stage is totally drowned out by the over-spilling thrum of activity from the audience.

But then the moment comes when Daniel finally graces us with his presence, bumbling onto the stage in an endearingly humble manner despite the hundreds of packed in faces glaring awestruck at him.

And it’s sad. Heartbreakingly, movingly, voyeuristically sad. On the one hand it becomes apparent that some people in the audience have arrived to merely watch the mentally ill ‘star’ of the documentary ‘The Devil And Daniel Johnston’ – they want the Satan-rants and the on stage breakdown.

They talk about his nervous, shaking hands and his occasionally out of time guitar playing like he was an attraction in a bloody zoo (‘Oh, bless him, he can barely even hold the guitar properly, can he? Poor thing’ – and yes I elbowed you in the ribs – you were being rude, whoever you are).

On the other hand the sadness bellows from Johnston’s songs and voice. There’s a great amount of vulnerability to his songs, but also a certain degree of viciousness, ‘I want a girl, or maybe a whore’ he sings at the start of the set.

He’s joined onstage by an adorably humbled Hot Club de Paris who look like the happiest and luckiest men in the whole world for the entirety of the gig, following a couple of opening songs which he performs solo and in devastatingly frank candor (which are again a little ruined by the drunken gobs of the young and the drunk – ‘Who the fuck is this anyway..’ ‘Isn’t it Bam Margera’s daaaa? huh-huh-huh’ – cue more elbow to ribs contact on my behalf. Idiots).

With HCDP playing backing band for him, the songs are upbeat, vivacious and cheerful. Versions of ‘Walk The Cow’ and ‘Casper The Friendly Ghost’ are bouncy, bass deep triumphs and a cover of ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ receives a raucous, celebratory roar akin to the songs original Beatle-mania squeals.

His voice is its usually expressive, slightly melancholic self – at times it’s haunting at others sweet and merry, it hasn’t got the strength of the average vocalist, but it still has enough personality and feeling to command the audience into the nearest state to silence as they could get.

Other songs are performed with the support of one of Johnston’s friends (insert friends name here – the sqwauking students stood behind me were caterwauling about pulling each other’s pubes out when his name got mentioned. Hilarity, yes? Of course), and are mesmerically beautiful.

Childish, forlorn and a little lost – the song ‘Hey Joe’ in particular moves more than a few grown men to tearfully excuse themselves for a ‘ciggie’ (replacing Kleenex for Marlboro Lights, presumably) with Johnston singing ‘It can work out, work out, no matter how you feel right now…there’s a heaven and a star for you’ with an earnest, nervous quiver to his voice that is seriously crippling.

Finishing on the ridiculously heartfelt ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’, performed solo and stripped down – bare and devastating. A woman cries out ‘I love you Mr Johnston!’, with true quaking emotion in her voice, to which he smiles and ardently replies ‘thank you Liverpool’ and ends on the unbelievably hopeful note of ‘Don’t be sad, I know you will, but don’t give up until, true love finds you in the end’.

Pass the Marlboro Lights, please.