The devil, Daniel Johnston and SLC
Reading Time: 2 minutes It is evident that at least some form of redemption has come for tortured singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston.
It is evident that at least some form of redemption has come for tortured singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston.
On a clear night at In the Venue on April 3, Johnston performed his array of quirky and eclectic songs to an excited and expectant crowd.
Every esoteric-loving hipster worth his or her weight in haughty music pretentiousness was in attendance.
As anybody who has seen the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston knows, Johnston’s life has been less than serene.
He was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder during his freshman year at Abilene Christian University.
In 1990, shortly after playing at the South by Southwest music festival, he wrestled control of the plane his father was piloting, causing it to crash. He was subsequently placed in a mental hospital.
His sometimes crippling condition has also cost him numerous record contracts throughout the years. Still, Johnston has managed to win the acclaim of artists such as David Bowie, Kurt Cobain, and Bright Eyes, among others.
This profound influence and cult status was evidenced by a rare instance of palpable and profound reverence that pervaded the audience this night.
Johnston started the show with just himself and his guitar, playing songs such as "Mean Girls Give Pleasure" and "Grievances." This was easily the highlight of the night, as it was Johnston in his element, a true display of his raw and primitive songwriting persona.
After playing a few songs, Johnston then left the stage. Many wondered where he had gone, as surely the show couldn’t have been over yet. Sure enough, in no time, Johnston reentered the venue and awaited his band to come up and play with him. "Where is my band? I don’t have a lot of jokes," Johnston said.
The band backing Johnston that night would be none other than alt-country locals Band of Annuals. The group opened the show but also did a fine job serving Johnston’s songs.
Opening the show with a lap steel guitar, beat-steady bass, and drums alongside, Band of Annuals gave nothing short of a splendid performance, giving Johnston’s songs their due justice, while adding the perfect amount of their own individual spice.
Despite getting older and somewhat more portly, Johnston gave a passionate performance that was moving and praiseworthy. He performed with the kind of honest intensity that could only have been actualized given his stark sincerity as a musician.
Johnston wailed away the lyrics to songs like "Rock and Roll EGA" and "Mountaintop." At the end of the set, the audience was delighted to be part of a sing-along song of Johnston’s called "Devil Town."
What makes Johnston’s tunes absorbing is their simplicity and childlike nature. By no means technical, his music stands as testimony to the power of music derived through conviction and sincerity.
Perhaps this is why he has reached a cult-icon status; he reminds musicians to keep the integrity in their music.