Friday Night: Daniel Johnston's 50th Birthday At Fitzgerald's

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Photos by Jim Bricker
Daniel Johnston
Fitzgerald's
January 14, 2011

Check out our slideshow from Friday night's birthday festivities.

News had already reached Aftermath before we arrived at Fitzgerald's for Daniel Johnston's 50th birthday concert that he could only get through two and a half songs at his Cactus Music in-store performance.

That didn't keep a massive throng from showing up on a cold night to see the reclusive Johnston. With all kinds of theater, music and arts people and friends - like Catastrophic Theater's Jason Nodler, who wrote and directed two plays about Johnston's life - in attendance, the night held out the promise of something truly special.

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But after a touching moment when the entire crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to the Texas folk hero and he acknowledged their love with a heartfelt "Thank you," the solo portion of Johnston's show indeed turned into a train wreck. His guitar playing was almost child-like, at times completely falling apart, although he plunged ahead.

Johnston seemed rattled and fritzed, and it was pretty painful and sad to watch.

He left the stage after only three numbers, and we had to wonder if he had cratered and the show was over. But members of Spain Colored Orange quickly filtered back to the stage, and within five minutes, Johnston returned without his guitar.

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The show took on some semblance of professionalism as SCO laid down a solid rock groove for Johnston, who seemed suddenly energized and had a semblance of confidence.

And when Johnston dropped into the old Beatles chestnut "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," unannounced, with his voice cracking and reaching, he almost sucked all the air out of the room. The magic materialized out of the ether as Johnston infused his interpretation with an emotional terror, and let us glimpse the purity and beauty his peculiar style can create.

Following up with a muscular version of "Speeding Motorcycle" and a heartbreaking take on "True Love Will Find You In the End," Johnston sealed the deal with everyone in the room. It truly was some kind of brief, illusory magic, and we felt lucky to have him in our midst, frail and damaged though he might be.

Location Info

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Fitzgerald's

2706 White Oak, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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15 comments
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Jason Smith
Jason Smith

I agree, "True Love" sealed the deal. That's an amazing song! You shouldn't neglect the other bands that played though - or maybe devote a separate blog to them. Roky Moon and Electric Attitude were both their rocking selves, and The Bright Light Social Hour pretty much stole the night out from under everyone else. Kudos to Hector Del Valle and Fitz for putting on such a great complete bill.

Drozy
Drozy

Sorry I have to disagree with you. Are you a member of one of the opening bands or a friend? All the opening bands bored the living shit out of me and most of the crowd talked and ignored their performances. Lady next to me said she felt like sleeping during their boring sets.

Drozy
Drozy

I went to the show and the performance was about what I expected. The part I hated was waiting through three hours of other bands for him to come on. And upstairs it was hot and crowded. Definitely would have died up there if a fire broke out a la Great White. Entire show is on You Tube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

etc.

bibulb
bibulb

re: Speeding Motorcycle : MP3s or it didn't happen.

('Cause, DAMN, that sounds gorgeous.)

G W
G W

Hey, if he can get through it, I'm guessing it's because he wants to. Needs to, even. As long as he feels like he needs to put himself through the rigors of live performance, it's great that he does.

Eggs
Eggs

I truly thought this show was superb. While it's hard to tell what's really going on in the mind of DJ, he honestly looked pleased to be in the situation he was in. It was a very lighthearted show, and was one of the best I've seen in quite a while.

wms
wms

Hey, I thought it was special too. I wasn't joking about the last 3-4 songs really raising the hair on the back of my neck. DJ is what he is. Still, when you're at one of these things, it's almost like going to a Pogues show... will MacGowan make it through or will he end up in spasms on the floor in need of a MedEvac?

And I agree, he looked pleased to be there for the most part, from the Happy Birthday song thru the end, although at times during the solo parts he looked like he might implode to me. I've seen him play better shows and worse. But like I say, I'm glad I was at this one.

Didn'[t make it to Cactus, just reiterating what people who had been there told us/texted etc. prior to the Fitz show.

basshole
basshole

I don't think anyone really familiar with Johnston and his music would refer to his guitar playing as "child-like" or his concert as a "train wreck" as if this were some sort of insightful analysis. That would be like commenting that Tom Waits' voice was surprisingly gruff. I saw the Cactus in-store and didn't take it as he "could only get through 2 1/2 songs;" he wasn't scheduled to play any, so we got a treat. And at Fitz, I never was worried that he "had cratered" because I knew SCO was scheduled to come out and back him after a few numbers.So yeah, a DJ show ain't exactly polished and predictable, but that's part of his beautiful tragic magic. I felt honored to be there.

CraigHlavaty
CraigHlavaty

But at what point does "his beautiful tragic magic" become exploitation?

a friend
a friend

When he no longer wants to be there.

basshole
basshole

I get what you're saying, but I really don't think this is the case with Daniel. He wants to play, and he does it his way with a lot of support and help from his family. Yes, I find the raw sadness in his music heartbreaking, but I've met him twice at shows and found him to be genuinely happy about the experience.

madnell
madnell

H E Y D A N ! Y A Y D A N ! B R A V O B R O !

MTK
MTK

God bless Daniel Johnston

God
God

No. You're not the boss of me.

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