March 2, 2012

“The Greatest Hometown Show of My Career” – Damien Jurado at the Neptune Theater

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Damien Jurado

Damien Jurado ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth

The Neptune Theater with its many green-eyed sea gods looming over the great room and ghosts lurking in backstage corners was probably Seattle’s most appropriate setting to introduce Damien Jurado’s most ambitious, and so far widely appreciated release to date, Maraqopa. Though releasing his own cassettes led to a pair of Sub Pop singles in 1995 and ’96 and then a number of LP’s first on Sub Pop and then Secretly Canadian, Jurado has largely remained an unassuming and under-appreciated figure locally. On the other hand he’s also songwriter everyone secretly seems to have a very personal relationship with. Judging by the sold out crowd for this release, Jurado’s largest hometown headlining crowd to date, more than fifteen years of cultivating passionate fans just a few at a time has finally hit a critical mass. Just tabulated first week sales figures for Maraqopa from SC report the best first week sales of his career.

Maraqopa is on no map and there is no marked road to get there. A relentless curiosity fueled by an active imagination leads to places uncharted. Jurado is eccentric, but he is still eloquently human. “To be or not to be” is the question Jurado is posing in so many different ways. Are we a slave to our ego, or are we in pursuit of a beautiful existence? What are we trading away by not always being ourselves and saying what needs to be said? What are the dimensions of everlasting regret? Shades of Situationalism abounds as when he croons “free is all we are” on “Everyone a Star.” Here he’s stating a universal truth that encompasses all of our pasts, present, and future all at once, though for Jurado “free” isn’t the end of the story but rather the beginning. Not itself the desired result, free is the engine through which we explore our higher consciousness and might attain our own version of fulfillment. Free is the unique beauty of unlimited possibility.

I stood above the clouds, to see you on ground, waving me down feel free to lose yourself, I do this all the time, love is a blinding sun we are songs to be sung…

For those who haven’t been keeping up with Jurado, the opening song of both show and Maraqopa may have been a wake up call that he’s no longer just one man, one guitar and some clever found sounds. A long psych jam with Jurado sneaking in words from “Ghost of David” during the long instrumental wax and wane, “Nothing is the News” is emblematic of the broad scope of his current thinking, enabled since Saint Bartlett by producer/engineer/Shins multi-instrumentalist Richard Swift. Saint Bartlett found Jurado enabled, maybe for the first time, and Maraqopa is Jurado involved fully in this new mode of thinking. Going from a very defined and limited palette as a singer-songwriter to basically limitless options with Swift and a full band sound, Jurado is running with it. This means children’s choirs. This means space jams and drawn out distortion. “Joy is letting it go…”

Peppered throughout the record the high harmonies of the innocent sounding Swift family singers are a calming angelic presence that’s missing from Jurado’s previous work. We can all name our favorite sad song by Damien, but what about one that’s uplifting? Maybe it’s not so hard anymore. This night’s choir was made up of the night’s opener Bryan John Appleby, Jessica Dobson of Deep Sea Diver, Jon and Josiah of the Head and the Heart, and Pickwick fro-man Galen Disston. Joining together on Jurado’s Cascadian ode “Working Titles” and leaping to the standard Swift set himself on that recording was four spine-tingling minutes midway through the night that weren’t to be topped.

Marching through the new record’s songs in order, at one point Jurado stopped to reflect on his long road. Some bands lacking in awkward remarks to throw at the crowd will just tell the crowd how great they are. I’ve never seen the normally blunt Jurado blow smoke up his crowd’s ass, but tonight in opposition of any performer’s persona or aloof mask he might wear, smiles were out and Jurado was exuberant. “This is the greatest hometown show of my career” he told the crowd, savoring the words as he said them. “I am so happy.” He certainly has reason to be. After over half a decade of seeing Jurado live, usually to audiences of 50 or less, though recently as many as 300, that a crowd of a thousand people and more disappointed left outside in the rain filled up the Neptune without having heard his latest record was almost beyond comprehension. But that Jurado’s scope has now expanded to a much wider canvas, it feels right that the scale of his crowds should be expanding with him. No longer just “big in Europe” as they say, Damien Jurado is now officially big in Seattle too.

 

Damien Jurado

Damien Jurado ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth

Damien Jurado

Damien’s All-Star Choir ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth

Damien Jurado

Damien Jurado ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth

Gold Leaves

Gold Leaves ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth

Bryan John Appleby with Jessica Dobson

Bryan John Appleby with Jessica Dobson ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth

4 Comments

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  1. Love love love the first picture. Amazing shot.

    What a magic night that was!

  2. Great write-up Josh! Was out of town and unfortunately missed it. So it’s fantastic to get some insight on it.

    Re: Damien being “an unassuming and under-appreciated figure locally” and finally being “officially big in Seattle”, you might check out the conversation Damien and I had about that:

    http://apesontape.com/maraqopa-an-interview-with-damien-jurado/

    Happy Saturday

  3. Great interview Nick! Goes along perfectly with my perspective!

  4. Bill Jones #

    The live performance of Damien Jurado At The Neptune Theater was so great. I could still remember the night until now. I just couldn’t help myself but get starstruck with Damien because he was a good total performer.

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