Sometimes in life, we prepare to expect for the unexpected. Often though, we simply expect the expected. That is, after all, why it’s called the expected. It can be jarring then, when something truly unexpected happens, forcing you to cast aside your preconceived notions of whatever it was you were expecting. It is in these moments and spaces where truly interesting things tend to happen.
Damien Jurado, like many great artists, has made his career on the unexpected, subtly and effectively defying expectations at every turn. Sometimes this takes the form of an album that feels familiar yet sounds novel, and sometimes, over the course of a song or album, a character or storyline will take a twist in a direction you weren’t anticipating. Last Saturday night’s show at the 7th Street Entry saw these and more In what turned out to be an unexpectedly and pleasantly weird show.
The first thing you should know about Damien Jurado is also likely the first thing you notice upon hitting play on one of his songs: the man is a tremendous writer with a gorgeous singing voice. Each song he plays is compelling and demanding of your full attention. This fact was as true in a live setting as it is on his records, and applies equally to his new tracks and his beloved favorites, with the former comprising the bulk of his set.
The opener, “Allocate,” was true to form in that it was stunning. One of the lead singles from his new album,The Horizon Just Laughed, the tune showcased his gentle vocal touch and proved that his new tunes were just as strong as the old. The crowd, being as full of diehards as it was, didn’t need to be told that. You could hear a pin drop. And that was a good thing.
One of the more interesting elements of the show was hearing stripped down versions of the well-and-fully produced songs that appear on his records. While Jurado is a singer-songwriter at his core, his records, especially the most recent few, are lush, well arranged, and intoxicating. Combining indie rock with psychedelia and folk, they’re adventurous without compromising his complex songwriting visions.
I was intrigued when he walked onstage accompanied only by another guitar player (though another singer joined in after a few songs). Amazingly enough, the songs didn’t lose their luster, but rather gained clarity and impact without the sonic ornamentation. Without the extra drums, strings, and synths, the audience was able to focus on the songs and words along with Jurado’s beautiful voice.
This is how the show went for approximately forty-five minutes, Damien plays a beautiful new song, the audience claps, and everybody moves onward to the next, no questions asked. This was probably my favorite part of the show, with new tunes like “Percy Faith” and “Dear Thomas Wolfe” standing up to anything else in his catalog. It made me excited to hear the new record, and grateful that he was willing to share it with us. After that though, things took a turn.
It all started when he started talking about his new record. This, it should be noted, is normal. When an artist has a new record out, they talk about it and everybody’s better off. Jurado dove into how hard the period surrounding the record was, as well as the process by which it was made. His commentary was thoughtful and added welcomed insight. At the same time, a pervasive strangeness began to set in. This started after another new song, “Random Fearless,” with a simple acknowledgment: that he didn’t know all of the words to the song he was about to sing. This show, he said, was the first night of his tour, and the band hadn’t played together until being onstage. He handled this crisis in a rather bizarre way: by using his bandmate’s iPhone to read the lyrics to his own song. Strangely enough, the web page crashed halfway through, making for an awkward moment. He handled the moment somewhat gracefully, however, and moved on, things briefly returning to normal.
Two brand new songs were next, both capturing the audience’s attention, before another odd turn, this taking the form of another new song. This song, he said, was bad. Specifically, he said, it sounded like a pop song Adam Levine had written. Sometimes we’re our own worst critics. The song, though admittedly very cheesy, went over very well. It might not make pop radio any time soon, but it worked in this instance.
At this point, the show got back on track. Starting with his arguably most popular song, “Sheets,” Jurado ended with a solid run of tunes. Included in this section were a few selections from his 2016 release Visions of Us on the Land, which happens to be one of my favorites. The show ended with “Kola.” It was an expectedly beautiful end to an expectedly unpredictable night.