A Daniel Johnston show remains a tenuous endeavor, even as the troubled Texas pop icon has made a successful performing comeback over the past decade. Headlining the Yellow stage on Sunday to a packed tent, he offered flashes of raw brilliance and precarious unsteadiness.
Johnston emerged uneasily, wearing a sport coat over his familiar T-shirt and sweatpants, and opening with new song “Mask” from last year’s Space Ducks LP. His backing quintet, which numbered four members of Brownout including Space Ducks producer Adrian Quesada, initially had trouble syncing with the singer as he slurred through the read lyrics in front of him.
Fortunately, “Speeding Motorcycle,” “Walking the Cow,” and a stripped down “Mountain Top” provided more secure footing, with Johnston demonstrating some vocal range. Covering the Beatles, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” fell uneven between the stumbled verses and poignant, crowd-backed chorus, and ended abruptly. Space Ducks’ “Mean Girls Give Pleasure” fit well with Johnston’s more familiar material.
“Rock ‘N’ Roll/EGA” provided a set highlight when the song turned into a howling rant with backing power to match. Likewise, “True Love Will Find You in the End” trembled with a beautiful emotional power.
“Here’s a special song for any of you that feel like you’re going to die,” offered Johnston before launching into “Funeral Home.” The final round of “Devil Town,” sung a cappella with the entire crowd joining, offered one of the festival’s most extraordinary moments.
Though Johnston left quickly after only 30 minutes and 10 songs, the crowd cheered for more until the lights and house music came up. No one left disappointed.
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