When I last checked in with Badly Drawn Boy (two years ago), Manchester songwriter Damon Gough was bitter about being stuck in his career, having to feed the expectations of his fans and record label. Frankly, if you had gapped teeth, had gotten loads of mediocre reviews and had a beer gut that suggested you were eight months along, life wouldn’t be so pretty, would it? Gough’s October 19 show at the Troubadour initially found me more sympathetic toward him than anything else. But throughout his performance, I increasingly became embarrassed and disenchanted.
[more:]Anyone who’s seen Badly Drawn Boy perform can attest that Gough’s a perfectionist, always griping about improvements that he needs to make both onstage and in his career. And complaining that new song “Nothing’s Gonna Change Your Mind” — despite being a “pain in the fukin’ arse” to play live on piano — should have taken Coldplay’s place on the U.K. charts is a completely reasonable comment coming from him. To note, he fucked up a couple of times during the song’s delivery but was reassured by a nice girl in the audience that “it was good!” He muttered a reluctant “thanks” — unlike after a half-assed acoustic version of “Disillusion,” when he said that if we clapped we were applauding shit.
What is unpredictable about Gough is his rock-star fantasy. A big fan of Springsteen (Gough’s fifth album, released October 16 on Astralwerks, is called Born in the U.K.), it’s unclear as to whether he truly aspires to be a rock star in the classic American sense — big money and shining lights — or whether he’s a guy with a dry sense of humor who pokes fun at musicianship. After a few ho-hum new songs opened his show, Gough noticed that the cameras were watching and got down on his knees to pose with his raised guitar. Upping the cheese factor, he used “All Possibilities” as his shining moment, puffing a cigarette, pointing a finger at all the “possibilities” in the audience, kissing heads and ruffling hair, shaking hands — all without a hint of apparent irony. He grabbed the digital camera from a woman’s hand and stuck it in his pocket without missing a note of the song, played Bono for three minutes, and still had time to pull off his deadpan Jesus pose.
But hell, that’s just embarrassing. Who needs embarrassment when you can go balls out and isolate an audience completely? As a lyricist, Gough constantly strives to write sappy anthems for his layered music, always searching for the ideal word combination that says “we will get through this together” or “love is all around.” Thing is, it’s difficult to get across a song full of heart when you don’t remember the lyrics you worked so hard to perfect. Case in point: “You Were Right,” during which his (damn good) xylophone player threw on a beautiful red guitar in Gough’s place while Gough struggled to sing and read the song’s lyrics — placed on a music stand — and squinted at them between swigs of what looked like Guinness. He remembered to add Joe Strummer and Elliott Smith to the “lot of lives” listed in the song, and raised his glass at “turning Madonna down and calling it (his) best move,” both definitely planned. But when it came to remembering how the tune went and when to let a guitar interlude cut off his voice, things weren’t sounding so hot.
If Gough’s rock-star act is a sarcastic joke, I’m amused and appreciate his flair for dry mockery. More important, he is a talented musician, and I’m glad he’s stopped bitching to his supportive fans about how much he hates his job. But if this show was a genuine effort at showing star potential and giving his vanity room to grow, then it looks like we’ll be applauding shit much longer than we deserve. Cue “Disillusion.”