Damien Jurado cut a rather unassuming figure while taking his seat at the front of the stage for the opening set (for Chad Vangaalen) performance at La Maroquinerie in Paris. Dressed in jeans, a plaid button down, and white socks, sans shoes; he could have easily passed for a friend dropping in to play guitar. His appearance could have been called disheveled if it wasn’t for a certain, self-assured, intensity that accompanied him throughout his performance. As for his music, a casual listen might drop him into that vague, vacuous genre of “singer-songwriters”, but a closer listen reveals layers of a dark, poignant sorrow delivered with a sincerity that sets him apart from the other lonely souls looking to lose themselves in music.
Damien Jurado has been making solo records for about fifteen years now but he is still far from a household name. His career carries on with the same quiet, but confident, demeanor that he himself seems to possess. Most interestingly, though, is that fifteen years in and he seems to be getting better with each new album. While Jurado plays his fair share of solo shows, his set on this night found him backed by a full band. The setup was appropriate given the rich, full sound that marks the latest record, Maraqopa, an album which contains some slick production and a handful of the songs that are a stylistic departure from earlier material.
The set was short, as opening sets go, and nearly the entire 45 minutes was dedicated to tracks from the new record. Fortunately, there are more than enough highlights on that record alone to make for a memorable evening. The track “Reel to Reel” made an immediate impact with its eerie, discordant backing instrumentation. “Working Titles”, a song with a sweet, almost soulful refrain, also stood out during the performance. The title track from the new record, while not one of the strengths of the album, provided a new found appreciation, as it ushered in a strange tranquility throughout the room.
Jurado stayed seated for most of the set, with the exception of a few upbeat numbers, but even while seated he remains the focal point on stage. One such song, that had him vacating his seat upfront, was a track not yet released. The song, which for the moment is entitled “Horizons”, started slow and progressively built itself up to a sort of freeform instrumental jam; however, it seemed to wander a little too aimlessly without ever really finding its home.
As a performer, Damien Jurado appears focused on the job at hand, addressing the audience very little. On one level this can come across distant to an audience, yet, when a performer provides so much intimacy in his lyrics it seems absurd to demand anything more. One subtle exchange did offer a little insight however. During a quick break in the set, he responded to audience applause with a quiet, “Merci”. Then, after quick reflection, he followed with, “I would like to learn your language, but I have no use for it in the US”. It could almost be construed as an insult, to either the French language or to the, unfortunate, one language culture that exists in the US. However, I don’t believe it was meant in either way. It speaks more to the man and his directness. Even his lyrical content seems to have little use for ambiguity or metaphor. Part of his talent lies in the ability to trim all the excess away until all that is left is the stark reality of emotion. However, don’t take my word for it, take his, as on “Museum Of Flight”, which provided the most beautiful five minutes of his set, he sings, ‘Don’t let go, I need you to hang around, I’m so broke and foolishly in love. I turned around, my life was changing, what did I learn? That it’s not that easy, when you get burned, then go on burning loud’.