Daniel Johnston / Eamon McGrath Knox United Church, Calgary, AB September 7
Published Sep 08, 2009Unfortunately, the night started on a predictable singer-songwriter note with an underwhelming set from Edmonton's Eamon McGrath. True, he had passion and seemed comfortable on stage, but any good in his set was overshadowed by his whiskey-soaked clichés and troubadour pretension. McGrath's lonesome-badass persona is just way too much of shtick to be enjoyable.
Thankfully, it wasn't long before outsider folk legend Daniel Johnston cut through all the bullshit with his certified songs of pain. Feeling at home in a folding chair with a peculiar headless guitar, Johnston passionately sang songs from his entire body of work, paying special attention to classics from Fun, Yip-Jump Music and, of course, Hi How Are You. With his head hiding behind the giant music stand in front of him, the most visible part of Johnston was his shaky hands, emphasizing the fragility of the performance.
Joined by a backing guitarist halfway through, Johnston was able to push his voice towards the end of his first set. Then, after a brief intermission, he came back out and sat an electric piano, where he seemed more comfortable. The acoustics of the church added another dimension of warmth to the keyboard, and Johnston's songs were given an ethereal quality as a result.
Johnston was then joined by both his guitarist and McGrath, who left his posturing behind to add some tasteful guitar and piano to the arrangements. The sparse instrumentation emphasized the honesty and emotion in Johnston's songs, culminating in an incredible, heart-wrenching rendition of "True Love Will Find You in the End." Hauntingly bare-bones, the concert perfectly displayed the tragedy, humour and honesty of Daniel Johnston.