James Poole recommendations

Badly Drawn Boy [Warning: contains salty language]

‘It’s my daughters 10th birthday today. She’s the most beautiful person in the world. Are there any daughters in here tonight? Your dad thinks exactly the same about you. Even if you’re minging.’

Once more, Badly Drawn Boy arrives in New York to baffle the audience with Mancunian wit. Last night I caught the second of two shows at LPR. He was on fine form.

‘I remember when my daughter was born and I held her in my arms.’
‘She turned to me, and said “Dad, you’re one cool motherfucker”. I said “Watch your language”.’

Yes, A Badly Drawn Boy concert is part cabaret, and for his final song (a cover of ‘Thunder Road’), borderline karaoke. It’s pure entertainment, if you get his sense of humour.

Opening with songs about death, friends disappearing, and suicide, it’s not what you’d immediately put down as a top Saturday night out. But, this is Badly Drawn Boy. He’s bloody good. Songs which tug at the heartstrings, such as ‘A Minor Incident’ from ‘About A Boy’, and ‘I’ll Carry On’ from ‘Is There Nothing We Could Do?’ have the audience completely transfixed. It’s all about his voice, and his acoustic guitar. The hush descending over the audience transports the room to another place. The power of his singing, and his ability to draw people into the depths of his feelings are truly astonishing.

And then, just as he has the audience in a place where they collectively feel he can do no wrong, he comes out with a line like:

‘It’s a good job I’m good’
[audience silence]
‘Oh, it’s just Mancunian humour’

Seriously, this hits the nail bang on the head. It’s not just that they don’t get his humour, it’s that he pushes it to the limits. Near the start of his set, he plays the opening bars to five or six of his audience-pleasing tunes, quickly moving form one to the next, and then leans into the mic to say ‘right, I just wanted to get them out of the way’. Of course he doesn’t. He loves this. He’s in his element. He wants to put on a great show. He wants to entertain. He loves New York. On talking about missing his daughter’s birthday, he says that:

‘If I’m not with her, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than New York. Imagine if I was in Shitsville, Arizona. I’d be suicidal.’

He does love it. When he receives a heckle, he gets properly spiky for a few minutes, as he wants to be loved. He wants the audience to get it. On his terms. The spikiness dies down when Andy Rourke joins him on stage, and they work their way through a stripped down, and brilliant version of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’. I am not sure that the vast majority of the audience would even know The Stone Roses, but the title of the song seems to be entirely appropriate for Badly Drawn Boy.

Let me draw a contrast to Badly Drawn Boy. On Friday night I went to see The Budos Band at the Bowery Ballroom. For the uninitiated, the Bowery Ballroom is possibly the best venue in the city. It’s small, with a wonderful sound system, and it just feels special. Every time. The Budos Band hail from Staten Island, and lay down some serious afro-beat. Properly authentic stuff – the kind of music that is hard to stay still to. They’re channelling Fela to full effect, and they do a bloody good job of it. Their show on Friday saw them hit all the right notes in terms of getting the crowd dancing. They are a wonderful band, with a clear respect for the music they’re playing. The place was packed. At first. The crowd visibly thinned out towards the end of the set. It was staggering. I can only blame one thing – and this is the point of my Badly Drawn Boy comparison. The interaction between the Budos Band and the audience consisted of the band members basically being a bit arrogant, and shouting ‘BOOOO-DOWWWSE’ at the crowd. They loved themselves – or that’s how it came across. It’s not that it ruined the show – it was great. It’s just that it was unnecessary. I’ve seen them before, and there was none of this. They’re just a great band, playing music which deserves far wider recognition. The video embedded below captures them on fine form. Check it out.

Now, maybe it’s just the fact that I too am a bit of a northern miserablist, but the charm of Badly Drawn Boy’s interaction is the aforementioned self-deprecation. He’s clearly going to wind people up, but he’s also just having a laugh. When members of The Budos Band are showboating on stage, and basically shouting for the audience to love them, I find that a hard one to swallow. Another choice Badly Drawn Boy line:

‘I’ve got the confidence to go on stages around the world and talk bullshit’

Yes, you do Damon. But, that’s not what you’re doing. You’re going on stages around the world, and sharing some of the most beautifully crafted songs from the last ten years. You’re baring your soul, and wanting it to be right in doing so. You’re also talking a bit of bullshit while you’re at it. We all do. Especially in the north. Normally in the pub. With a pint, surrounded by your mates.

So, the Badly Drawn Boy live experience is simply summed up as this: a night down the pub with your mates, it’s just that one of them is the best singer/songwriter from the last ten years. What’s not to love?

2 replies on “Badly Drawn Boy [Warning: contains salty language]”

“So, the Badly Drawn Boy live experience is simply summed up as this: a night down the pub with your mates, it’s just that one of them is the best singer/songwriter from the last ten years. What’s not to love?”

You left out the part where your mate, the one who is the best singer/songwriter from the last ten years, is drunk and surly. I appreciate the review and for the uninitiated, your explanations of Damon’s on stage shtick could be helpful. That being said, Saturday’s show went down in flames. I don’t need an artist to play his “hits” nor do I expect a performer to lead the audience in a feel good sing-a-long. As a fan and ticket holding audience member, I do expect that a performer will put on a show. Damon put on a show, but one that more closely resembled a car wreck or domestic dispute at a family gathering.

Don’t get me wrong, I was entertained. However, the music was significantly overwhelmed by the bizarre drama. Damon lost his thought mid song a few times and the crowd was largely empathetic given his admission of homesickness (or perhaps more accurately stated, his sadness of missing his family). Later on, after throwing his guitar in frustration, his bandmates looked uncomfortable and slinked off the stage, leaving Damon to thrash around like an uncoordinated actor who forgot to put on his Godzilla suit. His futile attempts to throw his mic stand (as it was well tethered to his mic) were awkwardly comical, but ultimately a little sad as he appeared desperate and drunk. It was only fitting that he booted the bottles of beer put onstage by a well intentioned (arguable, I suppose) fan.

Damon said it best – “I am at the age where I don’t give a f@ck anymore”. That was totally apparent.

Thanks for the comments. It’s good to bring in an alternate view, and to (probably) speak for the majority of the crowd. And, do you know what? I agree with most of what you say. Hard to disagree that there was ‘awkward comedy’ at the end, or that he was properly surly at some points. Not sure that I’d go as far as the train wreck analogy – I genuinely loved it. I do realise that my view of the gig will be probably influenced by my separation from the north of England. Seeing OVERT northernness on stage has a certain charm for me. Warts and all.

It’s a shame that this drama overwhelmed the show for you – but I am glad that you were still entertained. One thing is for certain – a BDB gig is never dull…

Comments are closed.