Daniel Johnston: Alive in New York (Shimmy Disc) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Daniel Johnston

Alive in New York

Shimmy Disc

Jan 30, 2024 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Daniel Johnston’s live recordings never fail to evoke intimacy, the artist’s quivering vocals never less than honest and vulnerable. The difference with Alive in New York is that it was clearly performed at a point in his life where Johnston exudes what could pass for confidence, contentment, and conviviality in front of an expectant and rapt audience.

Mortality, art, religion, and—above all—love are explored in Johnston’s inimitable fashion, accompanied simply by his acoustic guitar. It’s as close to wide-eyed wonder as you’ll hear, yet this recording speaks not with naivety, but with a maturity less often associated with Daniel Johnston.

Sadly, it’s impossible to distill the highlights of his multitude of self-recorded tapes and studio albums into one relatively brief live performance, but—despite the notably omission of Johnston’s most popular song, “True Love Will Find You in the End,” and the fact that many of the songs also feature on his 2000 live release Why Me?—there is much to love being played out on this stage. “Silly Love,” from 1994’s Fun shines brightly; “Casper the Friendly Ghost” never fails to be a live hit; the medley of “Kool Aid” and “Funeral Home” is a welcome addition (although the full-length New Jersey live recording of the latter on 1990 is still untouchable).

Beyond this being a snapshot of Johnston at perhaps his most ebullient, Alive in New York stands out also for the fact that there are two previously unreleased songs performed: “Memory of Love” and “Super Love.” They’re perhaps as close as the artist ever came to writing songs with conventional alt-rock hooks, rhythm and genius chord progressions, and they are astonishing. Combine these rare tracks with two standout Beatles-related covers—Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Live and Let Die” quickly followed by Help! song “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”—and you’d have an EP of some merit. (Johnston was covering tracks by The Beatles as early as 1985, with “I Saw Her Standing There” making an appearance on Continued Story.) However, stand them next to the renditions of some of Johnston’s outstanding back catalogue on this record, and you’ve an historical document.

Two of the unexpected delights of this release are a touching, erudite street interview given by Johnston around the same time as the show, and an 18-minute compilation of lo-fi recordings—some musical, some spoken word—that Johnston made with the intention of leaving as voice messages on friends’ answering machines. Pre-dating his 1990 album, this collection of jocular recordings is a considerable rarity in itself.

That nobody knows precisely where this recording was made (Shimmy Disc founder Kramer rediscovered his own original, live-mixed DAT recording; all we know is that it was in April 2000, a month when he played several shows in the Big Apple) only deepens the mystery of this record. And the entire package serves to only strengthen the legacy of one of the true outsider artists of our time. (www.hihowareyou.com; www.shimmy-disc.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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