This may be a bold statement to make, but I have long believed Damien Jurado to be one of the best living songwriters. Okay, you’re probably asking yourself, “Who the fuck is Damien Jurado?” Or maybe you’re thinking, “Oh, is he the freakishly tall guy that Moby made wear a white suit and sing in a falsetto on his recent single?”
Of Pacific Northwest descent, Damien Jurado is well respected for his unrivaled talent, with strong recognition over the years from Seattleites Dave Bazan and Jeremy Enigk (who pointed Sub Pop in Jurado’s direction), as well as the musician/producer Richard Swift, who worked on Jurado’s past three records. Swift and Jurado’s third collaboration is Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, which saw a regular and deluxe release earlier this year on Secretly Canadian. It marries the core, stripped down songs that Jurado crafts so well with Swift’s keen sense of psychedelic production, and it steers Jurado stylistically into uncharted waters that no fan or critic would dare argue is uninteresting.
When I was fifteen, someone shared Jurado’s pre-Secretly Canadian record Ghost of David with me, and it changed the way I felt about folk singer/songwriters. This was before I’d heard of contemporaries like Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens, or Bon Iver. Jurado had a raw, bone-chilling way of sharing both the dark and bright with his audience; his lyrics will forever narrate the saddest moments of my life, whether or not I can relate to a divorce, drug addiction, or tremendous romance. He simply says it better than anyone else, when you need him to.
Fast forward to 14 years and ten albums later: we find Jurado onstage at the Independent for his first headlining show in a venue he’s played plenty of times, and it’s sold out. He’s in a cheery mood, actually. Usually a private and humble man, Jurado must have been caught off guard by knowing that a few hundred admiring fans came out to just see him perform, and it brought him to being so gregarious during the show. He’s solo on this tour for two reasons: because he claims that he could never replicate his latest batch of songs live as well as they were produced in-studio, and because frankly, it’s just more cost effective. Regardless, he keeps the crowd’s attention in an almost silent room, taking a Q&A toward the end of his set (something I love about his pal Dave Bazan’s shows, too), cracking jokes about the persistent song requests, and reversing the Q&A by asking a member of the audience what type of breakfast food he would be (the answer: dry toast).
Jurado stuck with his acoustic guitar and trusty stool, and was accompanied by his “chorus” — a magical delay pedal with some serious reverb and pitch shifting qualities that I’ll never fully comprehend. This effects pedal filled out some harmonies on select songs; on others it gave an eerie echo to line ends, a creative touch making Jurado’s performance far above simplistic. There was one new, very promising song in the set, containing what Jurado referred to as a “hallmark” line: “I will remember you the way you are right now.”
He played all the back catalog’s heart-wrenchers, but with the ease of someone recalling the past and not the present, as if he was free of the pain he felt when he wrote them. In particular, songs in that category would be “Working Titles”, “Dirty Sheets”, “Reel to Reel”, and “Everything Trying”. Just a few months ago at a house show in the Mission, I saw Seattle-based musician Shelby Earl cover “Museum of Flight” as a homage to Jurado, who produced her last record. I was glad to hear the original again – it was probably the standout moment in Jurado’s set for me.
Before calling it a night, Jurado closed with the most relentlessly shouted request: “Ohio”, a gorgeous rendition better than any of the six or seven previous performances of the song that I’d witnessed. He closed the evening with deep gratitude to his audience, claiming he picked up on the energy in the room and he had a great time, sometimes closing his eyes and feeling like it was just him and the sound guy out there.
Museum of Flight
Reel to Reel