It’s no surprise that Seattle native Damien Jurado has been around for as long as he has. Tonight’s extensive setlist consists largely of unreleased material (that is, songs written after the release of his latest record Saint Bartlett), recent material and a handful of tracks chosen from the American’s significant back catalogue – one that goes all the way back to 1997. It’s a compelling demonstration of the singer’s songwriting fecundity; and signs are he isn’t in any mood to pack it all up any time soon.
What is a surprise is that Jurado’s talents still remain pretty much under the radar. Of course, that’s how it goes for the singer-songwriter these days. Either they rattle down the tracks on their way toward a destination that their often delicate music can’t really cope with (Bon Iver arena tour, anyone?), or they simply stay on that freight train called Slow Burn as it takes them as far and as wide as they want to go.
That said, Saint Bartlett might well be this melancholic troubadour’s For Emma, Forever Ago. Although Jurado’s previous records had their moments of inspiration, none possess Saint Bartlett’s sense of completeness. As well as greater songwriting consistency, the addition of fellow Secretly Canadian songwriter/buddy Richard Swift on production duties certainly gives depth and colour to Jurado’s rather plaintive canvasses.
Which, as far as tonight is concerned, is a bit of a shame, as the only depth and colour we’re offered is Jurado’s second mic. It stands taller and to one side of the main mic and pumps out invisible wraiths of vocal reverb that momentarily transforms Deaf Institute’s small, cozy box into a cold and haunting lair.
While Saint Bartlett isn’t exactly a full-blown rock record, its lo-fi folk certainly takes its cues from weightier lo-fi sources such as classic Flaming Lips (Cloudy Shoes), Ryan Adams (Beacon Hill), Neil Young (Harborview) and Josh Ritter (Arkansas). Rachel & Kali even manages to sound Josh Rouse ’70s soulful.
It would have been interesting to see a full band performance of Jurado’s songs, but no one feels cheated by this more intimate, acoustic-only show. And it’s certainly not a show lacking in intensity, as Jurado’s desolate lyrical landscapes and bouts of tenderness and compassion continually hit home.
Thankfully, Jurado is able to break up the gloom with both his gentle vocal timbre and the kind of eccentric wit normally reserved for David Lynch movies. Speaking of Jurado’s voice and wit, the check-shirted songwriter regales the audience with one of many amusing tales. “After one of my shows a girl came up to me and said, ‘How can your singing voice be so lovely, when you speaking voice is so… scary?’” It’s not just Jurado’s speaking voice that’s scary; his odd streams-of-consciousness also take some getting used to. For those that don’t believe that singer-songwriters spend too much time alone, Jurado is the living proof.
It’s all harmless enough though, and Jurado is actually charming us by the end. “After what I felt was a pretty poor performance,” remarks the singer, “I was on my way home with my son in the back seat of the car. He’d been to the show and recorded it on his Nintendo DS. After he’d watched the performance back, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Dad, I’m so proud of you.’” On performances like tonight’s, and after an album as good as Saint Bartlett, this restless traveling troubadour should have plenty to feel proud about.