Thursday, June 21, 2012

Badly Drawn Boy: May 6, 2001

The career of Badly Drawn Boy (or Damon Gough, as he was born) started with a bang but has since trudged along in a fairly low key. After a few EPs, he caused a sensation with his full-length debut, The Hour of Bewilderbeast, in 2000. Since then Badly Drawn Boy has gone back and forth between releasing soundtracks and albums under his own moniker, working steadily but never quite generating the excitement or adulation he did with Bewilderbeast.

It was while riding that early momentum, which included winning a prestigious Mercury Music Prize in his native U.K., that Gough visited Chicago in May 2001. To give an idea of his profile at the time, consider that the Metro holds 1,150 patrons and seemed to be sold out or fairly close. (By comparison, he played a 500-capacity Chicago venue in December 2010.) I really had no idea what to expect, but figured that the show might be worthwhile, given all the buzz. And indeed it was.

Like the epic yet lo-fi music on Bewilderbeast, the gig managed to feel simultaneously large and small. The room contained the presence and energy of a large crowd but the intimacy and good humor of a small one. Gough was a compelling presence, an incongruous blend of confident singer/songwriter and genial dude next door. Also incongruous was his chain smoking while singing in a clear, pretty folk voice. Donning his ever present scruffy beard, wool cap, and cigarette, he created an approachable persona that made the mid-sized venue seem more like an intimate club.

It was a long show with lots of songs (quite lovely ones, too) and banter. At one point, Gough passed around a photograph of his newborn daughter. After passing through a thousand hands, the photo amazingly made its way safely back to him onstage. Sometimes people surprise you in the best ways, and that unexpected positivity is what I remember most when thinking back on this show.

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