by Joeff Davis
Daniel Johnston performed Thursday night at the Variety Playhouse. He greeted the audience by telling a story of a dream he had about a man being sentenced to death for trying to commit suicide. In the back of the courtroom the man was saying, 'No, no, no,'" he said. "And that man was me.
It seemed like a strange way to greet an audience, but it set the tone for his two sets of
depressingly uplifting and cathartic music.
Basic purity is how one audience member described it. But it felt terribly amateur at first. His guitar playing sounded simplistic and his singing (if you can call it that) painfully weird. But as the show progressed and his confidence grew, the lyrics he sang painted a stark truth. And the voice he sang in breathed a sincerity one rarely feels at concerts.
Johnston performed two sets. During the acoustic part of the show, he played a couple of songs alone on guitar before being joined by an acoustic guitarist. Throughout the set, his
tightly gripped fists shook at his waist as he spoke, read and sang his lyrics from a beat-up music stand. His songs were constantly punctuated by shouts of We love you Danny! from the audience, with members emotionally singing along.
Where am I, Johnston asked at one point. After being told he was in Atlanta by shouts from audience members, he replied: Is that a state or a town?
In the second half of the show, the opening band the Hymns joined him. The Hymns, a good looking band of hipsters who jumped around the stage with typical rock 'n' roll antics, formed a sharp contrast with Johnston who wore a stained gray t-shirt and black pants, and rarely opened his eyes to look at the audience.
I love him because he has been through a lot and I can identify with that, said one audience member during the break.
After returning for the encore, Johnston wished everybody a Merry Christmas and ended on a hopeful note singing True Love Will Find You.
R.E.M. returned to its roots with supporting acts Modest Mouse and the Nationals to end its U.S. tour Saturday night at Lakewood Amphitheater.
Unfortunately, not much can be said about the underwhelming openers, a sentiment apparently shared by the attending masses. Modest Mouse performed with minimal enthusiasm for a modest crowd, a great many of whom didn't bother finding their seats until R.E.M. began its set.
What followed, however, was an excellent show even for a casual fan (or someone familiar with the majority of R.E.M.'s hits, thanks to the group's hourly inclusion on 99X since its primordium). Stipe and company had a commendable set list that managed well the fragile balance of crowd pleasers and new material. In contrast to Modest Mouse's nearly agonizing show (featuring Issac Brock's writhing ability to constantly appear mid-struggle in withholding escaping intensities), Stipe performed with the energy of a newcomer playing an arena for the first time, hamming it up to a highly receptive hometown crowd whilst rocking dance moves most often observed at MJQ on a Wednesday night.
On Friday night, I had the chance to be reminded of all the reasons why I love Lizz Wright, who I profiled in this week's issue in anticipation of last Friday's performance at Center Stage. Wright, a Hahira native who attended Georgia State University and performed around town before moving on, is out touring on her third (and best) CD, The Orchard. But the performance also reminded me of the reasons why I believe the best is still yet to come for this 28-year-old marvel who often draws comparisons to Norah Jones (for better or worse).
Wright must be a delight to work with in the studio. It's probably no coincidence that they now share the same producer, Craig Street, who seems to have a gift for matching vocalists with talented session musicians and songs to cover. And sure enough, The Orchard boasts some wonderful re-workings of everything from Ike & Tina Turner's "I Idolize You" to Led Zeppelin's "Thank You." (Fans may also recall her brilliant reworking of the 60s anthem, "Get Together," actually titled "Everybody Get Together," popularized by the Dave Clark Five.) Technically speaking, Wright is arguably as proficient as any alto out there, and that includes another to whom she's compared, Cassandra Wilson. She can wring vibrato from the lowest, huskiest notes without every sounding flat or without resonance, and she almost never cheats on a note. She has an uncanny ability to fill her tones with the kind of warmth that make altos such a delight. And she almost never, ever tries to over-sell a song.
But in a weird way, this last strength in the studio seems to become a weakness when she performs live, because Wright tends to hold back in a way that leaves the audience wanting more. Now, take this as one cynic's opinion; I'd argue a solid majority of the Center Stage audience would disagree with me. But from the moment she took the stage to her encore, Wright barely made an attempt to connect with her obviously appreciative audience, or to take a song to another level beyond the studio version.
R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills gave his honest assessment on Michael Stipes lyrics, and also talked about the bands well-reviewed recent tour during a conversation with CL contributor, Ben Westhoff.
Youve said before that you generally dont ask Stipe about his lyrics. Do you sometimes feel like you dont know exactly what hes talking about?
There are occasions what Im not exactly sure what he was thinking when he wrote the lyrics, but that doesnt matter. The only important thing is that the songs give you a sense of passion, or some sort of image within your own mind. What Michaels thinking is not always that important. And thats not to diminish what his intent is with the lyrics in any way, Im just saying that its the listeners perception thats most important.
THREE-HEADED MONSTER: Peter Buck (left to right), Michael Stipe and Mike Mills. R.E.M. performs w/Modest Mouse and the National this Sat., June 21. $35-$75. 6:30 p.m. Lakewood Amphitheatre, 2002 Lakewood Way. 404-443-5000. www.livenation.com.
Many songs on Accelerate seem fairly political. Does that make them easier to understand?
You know, I generally know what hes talking about on almost every song. There may be one song per record where I dont know where hes coming from. But again it doesnt matter, because as long as I get some sort of mental picture, it doesnt have to be the same one he has. And, really, theres only been one or two songs in the history of R.E.M. where Ive ever actually felt like I needed to ask him what he was thinking. Usually I just take my own interpretation of it and Im happy with that.
HOT DIGGITY: A random Corndogorama flier spotted at Bonnaroo.
(Photo by Brooke Hatfield)
Overheard at Bonnaroo: "I should have done more mushrooms at prom." One of the perpetually stoned high school students camping next to me
Hygiene update: I smell better than a dead person, but worse than a chicken salad sandwich left out in the sun for an afternoon. I think my sweat and sunblock have formed an impenetrable layer that will protect me from both the sun and bullets. Apparently it is now de rigeur to bathe and shave one's legs at Bonnaroo. I did not get the memo, so my legs are hairier than some of the men's I've seen so far today. It can be hard to be this extreme.
The last day of a music festival is a tough one the audience is too partied-out or sunburned or exhausted to embrace acts as fully as they could the day before. I definitely fell into that category, as I was still pretty beat from the night before ("KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAANYE!). Here's what I saw:
Broken Social Scene
I was only able to catch a couple songs of their set, but I did hear this gem: "Put down the bong and vote for Obama / You know that you gotta / You know that you wanna."
Overheard at Bonnaroo: "I never thought I would have to fight this hard to take a shit! I feel like an old black man in the '70s!" My moron neighbor who didn't understand why his tent mates didn't want him to poop next to their tent.
Important things I have slept through:
A Weezer concert in 2000.
A presentation in a womens' studies class in 2001
Pearl Jam, Sigur Ros and Chromeo at Bonnaroo 2008
Don't hate me. I hate myself enough already. I blame Jack Johnson, whose laid-back tones led me to nap, thinking I would get up in a couple hours when Pearl Jam started. Then I woke up and it was 2:15 a.m., and well, there went that.
But don't worry, I wasn't the biggest asshole at Bonnaroo on Saturday night. Rightly or wrongly, that title went to Kanye West, who went on 8 hours late (his 8:15 p.m. set was rescheduled to 2:45 a.m. so that his "Glow in the Dark" tour would, you know, glow in the dark.) But more onn that in a bit. Here are some timelier musicians I saw on Saturday:
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings: 100 Days, 100 Nights is a great album, but Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are really in their element, live. Jones, who is a tiny lady in her early 50s, took off her shoes and earrings and did her idol and fellow Augusta native James Brown proud with her incredibly energetic antics onstage. She dances! She wails! And then they had to go and cover "What Have You Done For Me Lately." Definitely one of the best shows I saw all weekend.
When his Nana died, he got her Royal Air Force portrait tattooed on his arm.
His tattoo is so awesome that I am momentarily suspending the Douchebag tattoo of the day feature to highlight this pretty lady on her grandson's arm.
(Photo taken Friday by Brooke Hatfield)
Overheard at Bonnaroo: "Next time I see Ben, I'm going to punch him in the face." A disgruntled camper whose tent mate had apparently committed a punch-worthy offense.
Friday at Bonnaroo was glorious! I saw the best set I've seen so far! But then it started raining and poop mud emerged from every portable toilet. I saw several bands yesterday and there were so many I wanted to see that I didn't catch many full sets so here are some wee tiny reviews:
Drive-By Truckers: Patterson Hood and Co. started Friday off right their sound was strong, the crowd was really into it, and the band's fierceness totally filled the enormous stage they played on.
Jose Gonzalez: His set was super-chill he sat in a chair onstage, and many in the audience took a similar laid-back, lay-back-on-a-blanket mentality. And luckily for me, he closed with his cover of Massive Attack's "Teardrop."
Tegan and Sara: Although their set was plagued by technical issues like several bands on Friday, actually the banter between twins Tegan and Sara Quin won the audience over.
The Fiery Furnaces: Part of the beauty of Bonnaroo is that there is a diversity of venues. Huge acts like Pearl Jam and Willie Nelson obviously play huge stages, but several smaller stages offer a more intimate experience. The Fiery Furnaces played one of these smaller stages (after playing a much larger tent earlier in the day), and I thought their sound made an interesting transition in live performance. Live songs sounded rawer than the album versions, but still had a distinct proggy, experimental sound. Here's the music video for their song "Tropical Iceland."
Eleaor of the Fiery Furnaces
Instead of going to see Jack Johnson tonight, I think I'm just going to watch the SNL video below and take a nap Kanye had to go and reschedule his show for 2:45 a.m., and there's no way I'm going to miss being his black Kate Moss tonight.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://youtube.com/v/RehhHZFqOm4" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
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