Daniel Johnston saw fit to make up a show he bailed on a few months ago, much to the delight of his fan base, which pushed the capacity limit at Club Congress.
Call me old-fashioned, but whenever a band takes the stage I expect a "Hi, how you doing, we're so and so from Anytown, U.S.A. Thanks for coming out!" I'll even accept the tired, hack Spinal Tap "Hello Cleveland!" joke. So when Reubens Accomplice, from Phoenix, opened the show and didn't address the crowd until two songs in, I was slightly miffed. They still didn't tell the crowd who they were or where they're from, just some hoo-hah about some of the band members being slightly new and "please bear with us as we work this out." The music was nothing special, unless watered-down Americana is your thing. Dan Fogelberg backed by Gordon Lightfoot could have wrung more life out of those wet rags. Ugh. Phoenix, man.
Smiles ignited from the near sold-out crowd as the rotund Johnston entered, armed with an acoustic guitar and notebook chock full of songs atop a music stand. After rushing through two little ditties, Johnston took a slight break as the six-piece backing band got situated. Featuring members of Jimmy Eat World, Limbeck and (oh no!) Reubens Accomplice, the band provided a rollicking and fun backdrop for Johnston's earnest takes on the small and not-so-small things in life.
Clutching and shaking his microphone, Johnston jumped into the lyrically brilliant "Bloody Rainbow." He sang enthusiastically about "Space Ducks," a new obsession of his it seems, as Space Ducks is not only a new album, but also a comic book and a movie he's currently working on. "Wishing You Well" was a crowd favorite: I counted more than a few weepy eyes as Johnston sang "Because I love you/ You're the one who/ Brought me back to life." After a fan shout-out for "Speeding Motorcycle," Johnston grinned as the band revved up and let loose the most fun number of the night.
As is the case with certain "outsider art" shows, gawkers are gonna gawk. It's no secret that Johnston has psychological issues, and I got the feeling that a good-sized portion of the crowd was there to see what the crazy man was going to do or say. Too bad, rubberneckers, Johnston was on his best behavior and played a great show.