Badly Drawn Boy opened his first U.S. tour on Friday at the Paradise club, arriving on a wave of hype as this year's winner of the Mercury Music Prize for best U.K. album.
But if the producer/singer/songwriter (born Damon Gough) comes across as a melancholy introvert à la Elliott Smith on The Hour of Bewilderbeast, an eclectic cycle of love songs, he was the opposite onstage.
"I hope someone is bootlegging this, because it will be legendary," Gough said during the show, which might be judged more for its rambling irreverence than its music.
His striped, woolen cap nearly covering the twinkle in his eyes, Gough stormed the stage with grand waves and bows, running windup toys on his keyboard and even smelling his armpits. It was a sign of priorities to come, as he played for more than two-and-a-half hours, taking delight in dashing the hype and steadily clearing the room.
"The crowd is dwindling, and I don't care," Gough declared near
the end, after countless fibs that he was doing his last song. "I'm the Badly Drawn Boy, and I'll be heir to the better music in the world."
For Gough, that music must be American. He rattled off the names of his personal heroes, from Sebadoh, the Pixies, Pavement and the Flaming Lips to Neil Young, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and Bruce Springsteen.
Gough cited '70s Springsteen bootlegs in calling for the crowd to "settle down" for a long show, and evoked a populist fervor in breaking down the walls between performer and audience: He shook countless hands, hugged and kissed fans and even strode onto a side-stage bar.
He shared his background as a laborer in a printing factory who was lucky enough to have DJ Shadow tap him for the UNKLE album Psyence Fiction. He thanked Boston for "one of the best nights of my life." And he suggested Jim Carrey for U.S. president, noting the election choice was already "Dumb or Dumber."
Now and then, Gough would
play music as well, and when he fingerpicked his electric guitar and sang such tunes as "Stone in the Water," "Camping Next to Water" and the requested solo offering "Outside There's a Light," he charmed the crowd. His four-piece band lent periodic support, most notably in the keyboard textures and choppy beat behind "Everybodys Stalking," but the musicians had to go with the flow like everyone else, treating the gig almost like a jam session.
"He's a little egomaniacal," Boston University student Sarah Freedberg, 21, said as she walked out with friends, "but entertaining nonetheless."
Those who left even earlier missed some intriguing change-ups that Gough left for the home stretch, including the acoustic "This Song," the Burt Bacharach-like piano soliloquy "Magic in the Air" and the twangy, plaintive "Pissing in the Wind," whose chorus was the telling attention-plea "Just give me something, I'll take nothing." On the other hand, those who left early avoided a noodling
noise-guitar waltz that Gough said fans could stop only by cheering, before he changed the requirement to booing. The crowd readily complied.
"He's got great stage charisma, and directing the audience is very cool," said Sharon Milsted, 20, of Grantham, N.H., who bought Bewilderbeast after reading about Badly Drawn Boy in the U.K. press. "It's so different from what you hear on top-40 [radio].""There's a lot of diversity to the music," said Keith Morrison, 24, of Somerville, Massachusetts. "It wasn't Limp Bizkit or Korn."