Taking an uncomfortable seat on the end of a closely packed row in a spacious grandiose room in the ostentatious town hall, I tried to listen to Laura Marling. I was quite near the front and I could see her just fine; a blonde lady dressed in blue and grey, playing an acoustic guitar which I could hear. The words were more difficult to make out as a siren somewhere kept wailing. After about half her set of quiet folky songs, it finally aborted to lyrically reveal a man who didn't speak until judgement day. "I'll freak out and cut my hair, didn't grow back for a good few years," went another song.
It's funny that Manchester City Council can harrass people for listening to music in their own homes, legalising theft in order to fail to create 'respect,' yet when there is a gig in the town hall it isn't loud enough to obliterate ambient noise attack. Even more ironic is the fact that the City Council has attempted to shut down various venues due to noise complaints, but is powerless to stop real noise pollution from sirens and alarms that pollute the city with their vile US cop show howling. Some halfwit from the council told me there was nothing worse than hearing other people's music. I asked her if she would prefer to contract AIDS or have a nuclear bomb explode in Manchester, which flustered her greatly. I'd argue that stupid sirens interrupting music are worse too, especially in the hall of the body that tries to stop the music whilst hyping the city for its music scene, of which it is thankfully mostly ignorant. It turned out that the siren had been accidentally set off by Daniel Johnston's backing band the Wave Pictures who had arrived late in a hire van whose pointless alarm system was unfamilar to them.
Daniel Johnston came in alone and sang three songs of heartbreak, strumming a very small guitar in an idiosyncratic tuning. He put down the guitar and was joined by a friend who backed him on acoustic guitar. Without an instrument, Daniel's arms hung at his side, shaking as if they wanted to strum strings or hit keys. "Everybody's wearin' a frown, waitin' for Santa to come to town," was a funny line to hear in the bureaucratic building whose annual guilding was a silly inflatable Santa. Hell, they can't keep the streets clean, but they can put a fake fat old man on the roof! Daniel is also quite fat, and dressed in red but he didn't sport a fake beard as it might have obscured his heartfelt singing, and for twenty pounds on the door that wouldn't have done. Fortunately no sirens went off outside the inadequately soundproofed room, so Daniel could pay repeated homage to his heroes the Beatles: "Hey Jack! Get back!" Just before they split for a short break, they went the whole hog and played a John Lennon song, "Hide Your Love Away."
On returning, Daniel was joined by the Wave Pictures as backing band. He told us he'd had a dream about a guy sentenced to death for attempting to commit suicide, which seemed to me like the kind of idiotic law that council bureaucrats would be willing to enforce, as they are only doing their jobs after all, just like the guards on trains to death camps. He was not too bothered about promoting the new album as I think he only played one song from it. After stumbling over a "Bloody Rainbow" to find only more heartbreak he announced the song he assumed we all wanted to hear, a revved up and rockin' "Speeding Motorcycle." The Wave Pictures made a good backing band for him, with low key backing vocals, Jonathan Richman rock'n'roll restraint, and drums hit with brushes. The acoustic guitarist rejoined them towards the end, and they played another Beatles song, "Revolution." The best and loudest was almost last, a rock'roll redemption song where the Beatles don't just inspire the man, but save his very soul.
Everyone was clapping, not exactly going rock'n'roll wild as the venue bylaws probably wouldn't permit too much joyful abandon. Daniel graced us with his presence one more time, but seemed a little confused, thinking he was in a church and asking if it was a Catholic one. Someome set him straight, fortunately before the council could slap a Catholic Abatement Order on him and confiscate his Holy Water, and he announced a Christmas song. Alone again the way he came into our world, he left us with the wish that, "True Love Will Find You in the End."
The venue closest to the town hall is Tiger Lounge and Thank You, a trio on Thrill Jockey records, were playing there. I thought I could probably catch at least half their set but I was in luck, they hadn't even started when I descended into Manchester's most kitsch venue. FTSE 100 had supported but a body can't be in two places at once. Nate from Oxes was doing sound for Thank You and DJing by playing eighties chart hits at slow speed. I asked him if Oxes were still going and he told me that they were intending to make a new record but it was slow moving as he no longer lives in Baltimore. Thank You instantly revealed themselves as American by having manic rhythms nailed by a drummer wearing dungarees. The other guys played double guitars or double keyboards, to make a joyful racket. Sometimes they'd sing nonsense to raise the roof a bit higher. After all sense can't be made, it can only be sensed, as former Johnston Shimmy Disc labelmate John S. Hall once pronounced.