For someone who claims he never wanted to be on stage, Badly Drawn Boy has a hard time getting off of one. Damon Gough’s alter ego displayed his stamina with a marathon set that both delighted and exhausted a sold-out Toronto crowd.
The singer-songwriter set the tone for the evening right off the top, claiming that it was “good to be back in America.” From that point on, his curious mix of affability, crustiness and wit had the audience hanging on every sung or spoken word.
And there were plenty of both in the nearly three-hour performance. Backed by a full band that included cello, violin and flute in addition to the standard rock setup, Gough dedicated the first half of the show exclusively to his latest release, One Plus One Is One. While the album may have received lukewarm reviews, the folks in attendance were happy to let Gough do his best to sell it.
He didn’t waste the opportunity. In a live setting, Gough’s worst self-indulgent tendencies are muted and his surefire melodic sense comes to the forefront. Even the overwrought arrangements on songs like “Summertime In Wintertime” seem more simple and direct coming from the stage (although quieter fare like “This Is That New Song” and “Fewer Words” scored more points with fans).
As well-received as his new material was, the concert found its true legs when, after a short intermission, Gough returned to deliver the older hits the crowd had been waiting for. He kicked off the second half with “The Shining,” from his debut record, The Hour Of Bewilderbeast, and fans immediately vacated the smoking balcony and the bar area to pile in for a closer look and listen.
Musically, the show was an inconsistent experience, much like Badly Drawn Boy’s recorded material. Gough was far from perfect – he messed up his opening number and smacked his mic stand when an apparent case of the pasties prevented him from whistling through the bridge of “You Were Right” – but his downtrodden charm turned these weak moments into bonding opportunities with the audience. Even Gough’s foibles resonate with his fans.
However, Gough may have gone overboard with a couple of meandering spoken stories (one about how his child is named after Bruce Springsteen) that padded the length of the show and caused much of the crowd to leave while he was still on stage. It was a moment that exemplified Badly Drawn Boy’s career – not satisfied with his mastery of the short, sweet pop tune, Gough risks wearing out his fans on his quest for something more epic.