Badly Drawn Boy The Great Hall, Toronto ON December 8

Badly Drawn Boy The Great Hall, Toronto ON December 8
Over the past 121 years, the Great Hall has housed a YMCA, a Polish newspaper, and an art school, amongst other things. Throughout wars, recessions, the Great Depression, affluence, poverty and resurgence, the building has persevered. Strange, then, that a building with so much history would suck the sustain out of Badly Drawn Boy's electric guitar.

While the venue has never been prone to smooth shows or consistently good sound, Badly Drawn Boy (aka Damon Gough) ran into a particularly bad patch about two-thirds through an epic of a gig. And everything had been going so well.

Deprived of his usual backing band -- blame label bean counters (he did) -- Gough played a largely solo set containing at least two Madonna references, extended bouts of wry humour and an abundance of acoustic-driven beauty.

At his best, the Brit singer-songwriter is a kitchen-sink artist (see 2000's Mercury Prize-winning peak, The Hour of Bewilderbeast) that both embraces and eschews traditional arrangements and instrumentation, toys with format, and juxtaposes the grand and the humble. Given his penchant for internal rhymes and heart-on-sleeve lyricism, the evening's sparse setup gave him little to hide behind. At the outset, the not-so-dangerous gambit paid off.

While he sporadically toyed with loop pedals, karaoked to recordings of himself (a gorgeous closing cover of the Boss's "Thunder Road") and his absent band (a flat-guitar-hampered take on "Too Many Miracles"), and periodically played with a guest rhythm guitarist, he excelled when alone and acoustic.

Standouts included a pristine rendition of "This Song," stripped-down re-imaginings of "A Journey From A to B" and "The Shining," and a Dylan-inspired version of "A Minor Incident." Separating songs with cordial chatter and often hilarious quips, Gough was affable throughout. Well, at least until he picked up that pitiable electric guitar and began grumbling aloud and aborting songs at a quickening pace.

During his mostly warranted gripe fest, the show took an expectedly douche-chilly turn, but thankfully recovered in time for piano-indebted encore numbers, "Silent Sigh" and "Golden Days." Incidentally, the former contained a snippet of "Like a Virgin," which always lightens the mood.