Last Wednesday, Ali and I lived one of our dreams: we met Daniel Johnston and watched him perform at Highline Ballroom. The meeting wasn’t quite how we envisioned it. Ali spotted him approaching the bar as we waited for the show to begin. A few people approached him, and we debated whether we should because we knew how nervous and anxious he must be around people. After a few moments, I decided we had to seize the opportunity. We went up to him, and I introduced myself and shook his hand. I told he how excited we were to watch him perform and he said they’d be playing around 10. He barely made eye contact with me during all of this. We wished him luck and then decided to leave him be, though we knew many more would approach him. Despite the slight disappointment, we knew from the beginning it would be tough for him to interact with us, and we realized just because we feel like we know him inside and out, he doesn’t know us at all. It was still a surreal and incredible experience that was only topped by his performance.
The opener, Hymns (what a stupid name), was from Brooklyn circa-2003. I liked them better when they were called Kings of Leon. Oh wait, no I didn’t. Next up was The Capitol Years. After the first band, they were a little better. They at least looked more respectable than the Kmart Back-to-School Rocks models that didn’t realize they were in their 30s that opened. But they also sounded like that band mixed with Weezer, so they weren’t thrilling. Then Daniel walked on stage and all else was forgotten. He opened by himself, stumbling through some guitar strumming while he sang his songs of pain. I wondered if he knew how much love for him was in that room at the moment. Then he had his friend Brett Hartenbach take over the guitar duties while he focused on singing. His shaking hands gave him some trouble with the mic, but it was ignored whenever he sang. After a short break, Daniel was joined by the Capitol Years, who served as his backing band and allowed for some of Daniel’s more recent rocking numbers. There were plenty of Beatles covers as well. The highlight of the night (for me) was hearing Daniel and the band play “A Day In The Life.” This is not only my second favorite Beatles song (a close second to “Tomorrow Never Knows”), it’s one of my favorite songs of all time. Hearing Daniel Johnston play it live was almost like hearing the Beatles play it themselves. It was beautiful and the dissonance was fantastic to hear live.
We’ve been living in New York for over a year and have seen tons of shows, from seeing Animal Collective twice to hearing Paul McCartney, and all of those were free. This is the first show we paid to see and it was the perfect one to do so. As horrible as it’s been living here, it’s moments like that Daniel Johnston show that make it all worth it.