04 November 2018 (gig)
04 November 2018
Damien Jurado and the Teatro Comunale Sanvitale of the small town of Fontanellato, near Parma, is a match made in heaven, according to the former of the two at least. Indeed, he professes this tonight, half way during his show. He noted that as exacting and uncompromising as he is when it comes to sound, it seems as if he is playing in his living room, his favourite place to play, such is the clarity on stage, as indeed it is for the audience, the lucky few present (it holds 200) in this 19th century neoclassical building, either seated in the small stalls area, or its two hovering balconies up above.
Damien is touring Italy and in Parma as part of the Barezzi Festival which brings together selected artists and has them play in unusual but always majestic historical buildings, as is the case tonight. DJ has just released a new, self-produced this time, studio album, his 13th, called ‘The Horizon Just Laughed’ which is simply magnificent. This American singer/songwriter from Seattle has been recording since the mid 90’s collaborating extensively with the late great Richard Swift over the years. Interviewed after the release of the latest album he said he had wanted and so tried to capture the heart and spirit of the songs more than perfection and precision. That is what I think Damien found so endearing about playing here tonight as the songs seemed to breathe, in the moment as it were.
Accompanied by friend and fellow musician, also on acoustic guitar, Josh Gordon, they take centre stage, Damien in jeans and sneakers, a white jumper with a picture of a bear fishing and surprisingly he, DJ, is not wearing his trademark thick rimmed black glasses.
He starts by tuning his guitar as he will do after every single song, not so much a running joke as an almost pernicious obsession I fear even though he faults his faithful and probably blameless guitar. He does say that he knows when he will have made the big time as that would be, as he witnessed at a Wilco gig once, when Jeff Tweedy had a perfectly tuned guitar thrust into his arms after every song but I get the feeling that won’t happen a)thanks to his low-key, self-analytical lyrics being too far off the mainstream chart and b) he would not allow anyone else, under any circumstance, to tune up his guitar!
So, we must put up with Damien’s maniacal ways, but it makes for some interesting pauses thanks to the banter he has with us and with Josh, though being without a microphone, Josh is a silent partner to us at least. It does however allow us to soak up and reflect on the exquisite beauty of the songs during the pauses.
They open with an unreleased song ‘When You were Few’ which is so reminiscent of Kurt Cobain in the execution and mannerisms of the vocals that it’s scary. You are immediately sucked in by the atmospherics, the duo’s playing, the gentleness but haunting voice that literally captivates the bended ear whilst you side further and further towards the edge of your seat.
The beautiful ‘Ohio’ leads to many songs follow from the latest album such as ‘Dear Thomas Wolfe’, Percy Faith’, ‘Allocate,’ ‘1973’, ‘Marvin Kaplan’, ‘The Last Great Washington State’, Such eloquence of word is engulfed by sweet soulful music and it is such a treat.
Stand out moments along the way are ‘The Novelist’ a Richard Swift song and a tribute to Richard, where Damien just sings leaving the guitar work to Josh. It’s a delightful song and when the soft falsetto notes are hit at the coda by DJ, it is the emotional high-point of the evening. Musically, the song ‘Richard & Cali’ is nigh on perfect in execution with its gorgeous melody, almost storyboard lyrics and some beautiful guitar phrasing from Josh. As for Damien’s voice, well it’s the closest to Neil Young’s warble virtuosity I have ever heard, and I can think of no greater accolade than that.
All these songs it must be said, are accompanied by a constant percussion thanks to the stage’s floorboards and Damien’s foot which pounding onto the well-worn wood sets the rhythm to each piece and magnifies the sound notably.
Among the songs that bring the 90 minute show to a close are ‘Birds Tricked Into The Trees’, ‘Exit 353’, ‘A:M. AM’. Damien does come back with trademark coat and glasses, saying that frankly he’s ready to leave but just had to say goodbye once more to, yeah sure the crowd but mainly the stage here in Parma as its been so good to him.” The best night of this month-long tour” are his words. He closes the evening with the track ‘Kola’, singing and playing it alone. The refrain of the song has him singing the words “I will remember you” an apt farewell, probably meant for the stage alone I reckon but it is a very satisfying end, and as we exit, it feels like some sort of magic just took place within the walls of the age old theatre behind us, though its spell may well linger on inside of us for some time.