By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
Wednesday, CB's Gallery. They're selling Daniel Johnston art, $50 for a color print, $25 for black-and-white, all the size of typing paper, images guaranteed haunted, generally filled with severed limbs and heads and his favorite self- image, the big-eyed monster. Plus dialogue. A sample: "How strange it all is!" "Well, it's more than weird. If you knew why Satan will die." "You are a failure Satan!" His last attempt at a concert, during CMJ last fall, ended disastrously, and this is the first of four sets in three nights, so everyone is nervous; the middle act makes Johnston feel welcome by leading a sing-along to "Funeral Home," his rewrite of Springsteen's "Cadillac Ranch." It works. Daniel comes on, looking far older than 38, round bellied, with a cheap guitar and a loose-leaf of handwritten lyrics. His voice is way more hoarse and scratchy than on the fabled cassettes he's turned into one of those wheezy character actors in a noir or western. A guitar string breaks. He goes on anyway, flipping one direction in the loose-leaf, skipping past tunes aplenty but still muttering, "I'm running out of songs," when he gets to the far right. Is it all a crock? Not the melody and pacing of the old tune that starts, "Talk about a lousy weekend."
Friday, Knitting Factory. The final set he survived! He's cheered for fixing his guitar strap; his pants slip down. He still looks nervous, in front of the mike, peering hard at the lyrics, which all produces a tremulousness familiar from the home recordings. Again a lot of new stuff, presumably from Rejected, the Tim/Kerr album that was supposed to come out January 19, only it hasn't yet. Then a band comes on Marc Ribot on guitar, J. D. Foster on bass, David Licht drumming. The musicians aren't smiling as much as the crowd; they've got to find a place within Johnston's rhythms, an off-kilter clump. But everyone laughs during "Live and Let Die" when he starts improvising lines like "I must warn you I'm a living time bomb." Does Daniel Johnston like himself? He's telling jokes by the end. "I had a dream where a guy was sentenced to death for attempting suicide. I was in the dream and I was going, 'No, that's not fair!' And the guy looked just like me." Eric Weisbard
Loser Takes All
He was sampled by the Beastie Boys. Aside from a pathetic ploy to grab your attention hey, people older than you have ignored David Bromberg reviews for years, in publications with smaller circulations than this one that fact also holds a historical parallel. Maybe the Beasties just liked the funky clank of the guitar riff to Bromberg's "Sharon," which opens their "Johnny Ryall." Or maybe, as products of 1970s New York, they knew from hearing him on the radio that he'd had a similar outsider's approach to earlier eras of black music, one that was both scholarly and clownish.
Bromberg formally retired in 1993, and on Sunday, the third of his shows celebrating the Bottom Line's 25 years, he kidded a lot about how unrehearsed his bunch of over-50 improvisers were. He warned that his voice was tired, and joked that it had never been very energetic to begin with. A student of American roots music, he's fascinated by mythos, but his Delta-accented nasal New York warble can't threaten violence convincingly. So he played Bo Diddley's bragging "Who Do You Love," and blues tales full of knives, the devil, cheating women, and dead mules, just like in the rural South, but sang with a loser's comic persona. "I'll take you back," he cracked to howls from the faithful, "when Monica gets a new hat, and pussy's just a cat." In "The Hold Up," cowritten with George Harrison and once a staple of local FM radio, he sang, "Wealth is disease and I am the cure" in the voice of a marauding highwayman, like Cormac McCarthy with a graduate degree in borscht belt.
He played guitar, mandolin, and fiddle with flair, covered Gary White and Willie McTell, tossed in some Celtic jigs and folk standards like "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down," and handed out 16-bar solos to the horn section and string players like candy. A hulking man, he loomed over the stage like an aging Jeff Goldblum, gleaming with ungainly poise, charm, and confidence. When the adoring crowd full of gray ponytails, heavily tattooed, chesty guys in Jagermeister caps, and hand-dancing women in thin dresses yelled song titles, he scoffed, "If you request it, it won't happen you know that, right?" Just like a surly old bluesman would. Rob Tannenbaum
"I want to see ass-shakin'," declared Zulu Nation chief Afrika Bambaataa before last Saturday's show at the Cooler, his first Downtown appearance in years. Bam got his wish.
The legend of Bambaataa was what drew in the mostly vanilla crowd. Crafting hip-hop and rap in the late '70s with spare funk and syncopated voices, Bambaataa then created electro-funk symphonies in a slew of early-'80s singles like "Looking for the Perfect Beat" and "Planet Rock." The '90s have been less glamorous, but the next few months promise a new album, a Leftfield collaboration, and a United DJs of America release.