There’s a unique tension to a Daniel Johnston gig, similar to what I’ve witnessed from seeing Brian Wilson play a few years ago but it’s significantly more pronounced during a Johnston performance. Playing solo – as he did for the first four songs on Saturday night – Daniel Johnston is reasonably comfortable as the controller of the many volatile particles that make up his songs. For the bulk of tonight’s set though, he’s in the company of a huge crowd of Dutch musicians known as The BEAM Orchestra. The backing band are certainly talented but you feel that the majority of their concentration is focused on keeping the songs ticking over in time with Johnston’s unpredictable rhythm. The saxophonist in particular spent a lot of his time counting Johnston in and signalling to the rest of the band. They did use opportunities at either end of their set to demonstrate the virtuoso abilities of the orchestra with the entrance music sounding like Foals playing in the St Patrick’s Day parade.
It’s not that this takes way from the gig all that much – on the contrary, it is what makes it unique – but it is this tension that keeps the audience o the edge of their seats throughout. There are giggles when the drummer begins a count-in while Daniel is still mumbling like a blubbering Oscar-winner being played off by the band. Several members of the audience pipe up to assist Johnston in recalling the name of his recently-departed friend and collaborator, Mark Linkous. It’s these moments when Daniel Johnston spaces out and forgets that he is supposed to be performing for an expectant crowd that remind people that this isn’t any run-of-the-mill gig. It’s the very same inability to focus and control his behaviour that makes his performance so sincere and free from contrived babble. Photos of the enchanting auld fella himself are below, on Flickr and accompanying the State review.