You could call Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy, the British indie equivalent of the Little Engine That Could. After trucking along for years with a critical cheering section, a small but loyal fan base, and an unflappable will, Damon’s surge to stardom with The Hour of the Bewilderbeast likens the feel-good triumph of the underdog at the climax of a movie. It’s the kind of story that ought to make his mama proud.
And that self-satisfaction was omnipresent from the moment Badly Drawn Boy took the stage, accompanied by the theme from Rocky. The show he played was one of a champ who was ready to knock you out, as he took plenty of time to wow his spectators with old material, singles, and B-sides, not to mention his sharp tongue, silly props and clever gags.
1 May 2001: Irving Plaza New York
But he also was the Damon Gough we’ve come to know and love, still working a modest manner that can’t help but solicit loving coos. It’s as if no one has ever shared with him the aloof, faux-intimate air that most musicians affect when they’re on stage. He played his elegant, keyboard-heavy numbers while sharing stories of desperation from the early days. He grounded his Gap-i-fied single, “The Shining”, in its emotional roots by allowing the crowd to fawn over a picture of his five-month old daughter, Edie. He showed his frustration over flubbed lyrics, bad sound, and less-than perfect execution. He braved the region of stage beyond the lights, giving a fuck you to mores that limit audience/performer interactions to a stage-ege gropes by walking down into the welcoming sea of fans. Regardless of where you were in the arena that fit thousands, you felt one with him; and it seemed as though he he felt you, too, as a distinct, important vivid.
The simple beauty of Badly Drawn Boy’s set, over two and a half hours in length, showed that fame doesn’t have to go to one’s head. And surely, when it’s deserved and diligently earned, it does just the opposite—it goes straight to the heart.