Daniel Johnston at First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)
Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: Lists, Music, Twin Cities.
Opening with “Mean Girls Give Pleasure,” Daniel Johnston quickly abolished any sense of discomfort that lingered in the crowd, chugging along on his unique electric, versing about the toils of following one’s passion at the cost of the heart. Johnston continued with a brief solo set before being accompanied on stage by long-time collaborator Brett Hartenbach. It was within the duo’s performance that Johnston’s words became free, the artist allowing himself to focus solely on the delivery of the stories he has been crafting his entire life.
Now the subject of legend, Johnston’s life was introduced to many through the 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston — a film that captured the (almost) absurd demons that the man has struggled with since he was young. But as the set wore on it was Johnston’s humanity, not his checkered past, that became the sole focus of the night. “Hold me like a mother would, like I always knew somebody should, yeah/Though tomorrow don’t look that good.” Lyrics such as these, from “Living Life,” helped speak to the historical narration of the infamous documentary, proving to the night’s audience of how he once filled 3000 seat theaters and inspired legends.
Johnston’s benevolence carried on throughout the evening as he kept the audience in high spirits, “I heard they just sentenced a man to the death penalty… for trying to commit suicide,” went one such joke. Perhaps even in spite of his overwhelming shaking that hindered the singer throughout the night, Johnston maintained his composure and continued entertaining the packed venue. “What town is this?” (crowd: Minneapolis!) “Indianapolis?” (crowd: Minneapolis!) “Memphis?!…” While Johnston had won the audience over long before he even took the stage he ensured that he would not soon be forgotten with his colorful interjections throughout his set.
Before heading off the stage again, Johnston and Hartenbach delivered a brilliant rendition of the Beatles’ “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” one that had fans shouting in unison each time Johnston approached the classic chorus.
Returning again, this time with local act Bison Forest backing him, Johnston dawned a new role, one of an honest frontman. Though not necessarily as fitting of a role as that of the solo player, Johnston still delivered in a manner that was upbeat and warm; the band helping by kicking off with the classic “Speeding Motorcycle.”
Continuing with “Rock & Roll,” Johnston told a story that more than likely held words with which everyone in attendance could relate: “Oh, that rock and roll, it saved my soul” he sang. Eventually shedding the band, Johnston and Hartenbach completed the night’s performance beautifully with the traditional one song finale, “True Love Will Find You in the End.”
Some people talk of Daniel Johnston as a beautiful soul trapped in a dangerous mind, while others remark of him as a brilliant songwriter trapped in the body of an average performance artist. No labels matter when thinking of the Johnston as a person however, because there is something wonderful, sincere and valuable about anyone expanding on that which makes them who they are. Doing so is essential to the humanity of each and every one of us—this night proved to me that Danny Johnston is an essential.