10:35 AM GMT 25/04/2013
Given how often we're told that "passionate" live performance is where it's at in the modern music world, why does the gig-going experience end up being so familiar, so uninventive, so overblown? Sonny Baker has found the living exception, a man who only needs a Sainsbury's bag, a travel brochure and a rape alarm to get the party started.
With the value of recorded music currently in flux, playing live, we're told, now offers most artists their only engine of survival, both financially and artistically. In the absence of studio advances and record deals, it is on stage that crafts are honed, sounds are discovered and rents are paid. Much like with American and British jazz in the 1960s, a live performance is now seen as the most essential opportunity for artists to really make themselves understood by an audience.
It seems strange, then, that it's rare to find musicians who grasp this lifeline with any true vigour. Reformed indie rock heroes playing album-perfect recreations of all the obvious songs - feeling "great to be back" with one eye on the watch, or a melancholy woman or a bearded man behind a guitar and/or laptop, playing something intimate, warm and completely indistinguishable from the support act? Then there are the bigger names, with their revolving stages, light cannons and giant metal spider-spaceships. There's a terrible creative insecurity behind all of this bombast, and ultimately it's a lot like a fireworks display - an impressive feat and a good distraction, but quickly tiring and lacking any semblance of, well, humanity. Another 'good' gig. Another 'nice' evening.
As we ride the tide of festival season, advertisements assure us that A Mobile Phone Company is as passionate about music as we, the fans, are (just like back in June when they were as passionate about football as we, the fans, were). It's a cynical, curdling strapline, but it's one that could sit comfortably under the name of many headline acts with about as much authenticity.
Yet like the majority of gig-goers, I plough on through. I have an awful guilt complex about missing concerts, and I find myself committing to a month's worth of nightlife in one visit to Songkick. It is only when I am witness to something as truly remarkable as the show I saw on July 7 that I realise how little it takes to achieve something genuinely special. With a guitar, microphones, a loop pedal, a Sainsbury's bag and a "personal attack alarm", one man put on a Technicolor performance to shame the stagnant, monochrome world of modern live music.
David Thomas Broughton is arguably the most staggering live musician in the country. His messy, whirlwind shows straddle the line between music hall turn and avant-garde performance artist, attracting hecklers and disciples in equal measures. So it was with heavy heart that MOJO attended his "farewell show" at London's CAMP Basement last month; Broughton is moving abroad, and isn't entirely sure when he'll return.
The show opens traditionally enough, with a verse from Perfect Louse, a stand-out track on his upcoming Outbreeding album. Then slowly, the loop begins. A bum note starts repeating round the room, a vocal refrain soon joining it. The chords from the opener are still echoing as Broughton moves on to another song entirely. He bumps the microphone, and that "bump!" gets added to the loop. His movements are jerky and slightly crazed, eyes wide as he theatrically removes his tie - like an over-energised preacher in the Bible Belt, sweating in his attempts to make the congregation speak in tongues. A silent audience is a rare thing, but Broughton - at least for now - has managed to conjure one. Everyone is focused - smiling broadly, or watching with genuine confusion - "what's he building up there?".
"Sometimes I do a Max Wall impression. Just a really slight one. I did it a couple of times", Broughton explains, with a grin, after the show. Off-stage, David is a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. Modest, thoughtful, witty and with a much softer accent than the one he uses on stage and record. "[I like] giving a performance instead of just sitting looking at a loop pedal. It's got to a stage where I feel disappointed in myself for falling back on the songs... People act like there's some really social import in what I'm presenting to people, and really analyse it. I don't want to think about it..."
Twenty minutes later at CAMP Basement, Broughton's guitar is on the floor. His lost "personal attack alarm" is sounding from somewhere under the stage, a portable amplifier is emitting tinny feedback in the centre of the audience, and the wide-eyed host is looking through a carrier bag for something. The loop pedal is faintly repeating the words "what can I do?" Broughton puts his tie back on. He is holding a holiday brochure, and clutches his microphone close to his mouth as he begins reading out the promises of sun-kissed paradise from the first page. He meanders through the crowd and we move aside to clear a path, our faces joyful but equally fearful of what that close proximity may result in.
Available on the merchandise table as we stumbled out was Broughton's face, as a paper mask. Perhaps next time I'm sitting down to watch another sensitive soul go through the emotions, or another bored band play all the songs that BlackBerry are so passionate about too, I'll ask them to slip it on, and channel the spirit of a true entertainer.
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 2:20 PM GMT 10/08/2010