Reviews

Badly Drawn Boy

Ari Levenfeld
Badly Drawn Boy

Badly Drawn Boy

City: San Francisco
Venue: The Fillmore
Date: 2002-11-05
There are certain things you come to expect at a rock and roll concert. Chances are, the band is going to mention that your hometown is their absolute favorite place in the whole wide world to play in and that the fans are the best. You know that at the end of the show, no matter how hard everyone claps, there's going to be an encore. Then there are the minor details you take for granted. For example, the notion that someone affiliated with the band will conduct a sound check before the show. Or that a group rehearses the songs they plan on performing, so the numbers can be finished instead of petering out in the middle. With this in mind, let me introduce Badly Drawn Boy, masters of the unexpected. Badly Drawn Boy is, for all intents and purposes, a vaguely hobbit-like Englishman named Damon Gough. Gough writes the music and lyrics, sings, plays the guitar and keyboard at shows. To his credit, the songs that Gough weaves together are wonderful patchwork quilts of emotion. His folky brand of pop grows on just about everyone who listens to it. Onstage, Gough was joined by a bassist, drummer, keyboardist, and rhythm guitarist. But the other musicians received not so much as a friendly nod, let alone introduction before or after the performance. In some ways, Gough seemed to be up there alone. The behavior served to reinforce Gough's arrogant stage reputation. What Gough did do was step before the audience with a filled plastic cup sloshing around in each hand, and a pack of cigarettes that would barely last him through his first set. Dressed in his signature knit cap and a black t-shirt with some kind of sequined design stitched into it, Gough welcomed the audience to the Fillmore. Behind Gough hung a mural with a blown-up version of the cover of his latest album, Have You Fed the Fish?. He informed the audience that the album went on sale that very day, and while he didn't expect that any of us owned it yet, we should add it to our record collections as soon as possible. With that, he and the band launched into "40 Days, 40 Fights", which Gough said "was written after spending 40 days in a hotel in Los Angeles, which was a lot like being in purgatory." The song sort of flops around, supported by high organ chords and a waltz-like rhythm on the drums. But before the band made it to the first chorus, Gough began frantically waving his hands at his bandmates to cut it out. Apparently he was upset with the almost non-existent vocals coming through his monitor. He asked the engineer on the soundboard to turn his microphone up, stating sarcastically that, "I can sing the song." He then quickly informed the audience that the band was performing an experiment that night. They had skipped sound check as a time saving device. We were now reaping the benefits. After starting and stopping the song once more, they nailed it on the third try. To their credit, it's a good tune with the type of catchy hook that Gough seems to be able to produce at will. From there, Badly Drawn Boy played through many of the songs off the soundtrack to the Hugh Grant film About A Boy. Nick Hornby, the author of the pop-British novel upon which the film is based, personally selected Gough to score the screen version. The soundtrack is arguably the best of the year. On it, Gough utilizes the impressive catalog of musical styles and sounds bouncing around in his head to create a collage of songs and instrumentals that are poignant without being corny. It's a soundtrack that can be listened to and appreciated without having ever read the book or seen the movie. "A Peak You Can Reach", taken from the soundtrack, combined Gough's scat singing with a marauding start and stop guitar riff. Meanwhile, "Above You, Below Me" was high-energy baroque chamber music, if that's not a contradiction in terms. But as soon as members of the audience began nodding their heads a little bit and shuffling their feet, Gough cut the song and moved on to the next. So he never really gave himself the chance to gain any momentum. Finally, after 10 lopsided songs, Gough announced that the band was going to leave the stage and regroup. But before leaving, he wanted to sing for us one of his favorite songs of all time. The rest of his band sat cross-legged on stage as Gough walked back to his Roland keyboard, and punched out a gorgeous rendition of the Fifth Dimension's "Let the Sunshine In". With that, Gough crumpled his now-empty pack of cigarettes and left the stage with the rest of the band. You could see engineers working desperately at the soundboard during the intermission, while crew members tuned guitars on stage. Meanwhile, about half of the audience left, not sure the second half would be any better than the first. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for those of us who stayed, it was. Gough walked back into our arms with his band, as promised, after ten minutes, and apologized for the first set. He told us that it wasn't our fault -- that he was feeling muddled. He missed his children back home in England, the sound check experiment was an absolute failure, and his fingers were bleeding. But he said he intended to turn the show around. For most of the second set, that's more or less what he did, offering up inspired guitar solos and a band that had somehow gelled during its ten minute respite from the stage Gough reopened the show with a fresh pack of cigarettes and the crowd-pleaser "The Shining", off of his first album The Hour of Bewilderbeast. The song, which Gough says was inspired after seeing his newborn for the first time, stirs up a pot full of emotion with the french horn and cello that open the song before the first lyrics are even spoken. What was left of the sterile crowd cheered for what was now their returning hero. Damon Gough, in turn, desperately thanked us. It's as close as I've ever seen to a codependent relationship at a live concert event. Many of Gough's songs have a simple quality about them. Perhaps that's why they're so endearing. You can almost see him sitting there, buried under his knit hat on his stool in a pub drinking a bitter, and trying to think of a line that rhymes with "but I'm still in love with you". His songs lull you into a false sense of security that way. But he sings it all with so much raw emotion, you want to take him home and feed him a bowl of soup. Rather than walking off stage and returning for the encore, Gough offered the show's coda without ending the set, repeatedly telling the audience that each tune was the last of the evening. "How", off of Have You Fed the Fish?, was beautifully executed with an amazing amount of positive feeling considering how the show had gone for the band. The song begins with Gough singing alone with his acoustic guitar, and cascades into a tidal wave of drums and strings (here provided by the handy Roland keyboard) that's reminiscent of Phil Spector's finest wall-of-sound work. "Disillusion", from Hour of Bewilderbeast, and "The Further I Slide", from the new album, followed. If the entire show had been as tight as these three numbers, it would have been an impressive night for Badly Drawn Boy. Perhaps Gough sensed this, which might help explain how the concert ended. Gough dedicated what was to be the night's final song to opening act singer Adam Green. Then he began singing "Pissing in the Wind", a lolling ballad off of Hour of Bewilderbeast. The song's desperation built up slowly, until Gough moved onto the chorus, repeating over and over again "Just give it something/I'll take nothing." The crowd swayed slowly like a giant hammock, enthralled with the moment. The rapport between audience and singer might have lasted for two or three minutes. It's hard to say. But something caught Gough's attention, and he became angry. With a violence no one suspected was possible, he threw his guitar down, and smacked the microphone from its stand with an open handed slap. It flew a good ten feet across the stage, its whip-like cord waving behind. You could hear from the feedback provided by the speakers that it struck something near the front of the stage with great force. It seemed inevitable that some fan now lay bleeding and in need of medical attention. Meanwhile, Gough stormed off stage. For a few moments no one knew what to do. But then, inexplicably, a member of the audience grabbed the microphone and began singing. At first it was quiet, but soon it became louder: "Just give it something/I'll take nothing". Over and over again, the warbled voice competed with our laughter. Gough looked on from the balcony overlooking the stage, near the band's private entrance, and smoked another cigarette. The fan kept singing, and the band played on with him. It sounded perfect.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image