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Daniel Johnston @ Turner Hall Ballroom

Feb. 7, 2008

Feb. 13, 2008
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Accordingto the venerable David Byrne, the better a singer’s voice, the more difficult it is to believe what the singer is saying. By that logic, Daniel Johnston may be the most truthful performer to ever grace a stage. He is the rare performer who is so genuine that he seems to believe every word that comes out of his mouth.

At Turner Hall Ballroom last Thursday, for the third date of a relatively extensive tour, Johnston appeared unusually comfortable, especially given his reputation for unbalanced performances. After the first two songs, which Johnston played solo, he was joined by an acoustic guitar accompanist and for the second set by a full band (made up of opening acts The Scarring Party and John Sieger and The Subcontinentals).

Sure, when his hands were not tightly clenched around the microphone stand, they shook excitedly, almost uncontrollably, at his side. But thankfully this was the worst symptom of his stage fright and a nearcapacity crowd was treated to more than an hour of Johnston’s often-simplistic yet per- petually heartfelt song-craft. The evening was a far cry from the frustratingly brief, 15minute sets he’d become known for. Those in attendance greeted each break between songs or nervous quip from the cult figure with rapturous applause, which lent Johnston, who is manic depressive, a confidence that he carried with him throughout the evening.

Johnston’s voice, a warbling, sometimes grating whine, can hold listeners at bay, but on this evening there were enough brilliant, pleasant melodic flourishes to take even the most discerning ear beyond the initial shock of his unique delivery and directly into the lyrics of his seemingly nave ruminations on love, loss, madness and faith.

Those who witnessed the performance were privileged to not just have experienced a mere novelty act, but a valid songwriter who has finally found the strength to assuredly take his songs to the stage. This is a step that will, with any luck, bring the increased levels of appreciation and notoriety that Johnston’s vast body of work has long deserved.


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