1 May 2001: Irving Plaza - New York.
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. 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.