Damien Jurado @ Village Underground, London 03.03.14

Cult US alt. country troubadour returns to the UK

Mar 3rd, 2014 at Village Underground, London / By Lewie Peckham
Damien Jurado At one point during tonight's set Seattle native Damien Jurado sums up his career with the title “Best New Upcoming Artist since 1997”. Joking aside, that statement is not far from the truth. Whilst his alt-folk peers have gone onto critical and commercial acclaim (Bright Eyes, Iron+Wine) and others have garnered cult status (Will Oldham and Mark Kozelek), it’s been Jurado who has consistently released album after album of moody introspective folk with lyrics containing cinematic narrative amongst the small town characters and dramas that inhabit many of Jurado’s songs.

With his last two albums (including the recently released Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son) Damien Jurado has branched out and expanded his sound to include a full band to fill his songs with spacey, ethereal reverb adding new texture to the music. In the Village Underground however, it's the back-to-basics one man and his guitar perched on a chair with the venue’s minimal lighting for company that Damien Jurado presents to the waiting masses. The first clutch of songs played tonight are from the new album and, away from the dub-influenced sounds on record, songs like ‘Metallic Cloud’ and ‘Silver Timothy’ become hypnotic, sparse verses, held together by the simplistic acoustic guitar-work and mournful voice of Jurado.

Unfortunately there are times during tonight's set where Damien Jurado’s songs and delivery tend to merge into one long same-tempo middle ground. Slow songs that can stumble in directionless fatigue and you find yourself thinking more about aching feet and transport home than you do about the person on stage. This isn't anything to do with Jurado as a performer as he is constantly funny and engaging between songs, drawing you in from the vast, emptiness of the Village Underground and making the crowd feel like they are watching him in a tiny bar enveloped by friendly intimacy and bonhomie.

When he delves into his extensive back catalogue and more familiar faces in his songs appear Jurado starts to really captivate and shine. ‘Rachel & Cali’ is still the best tale of unrequited teenage love, its refrain “A friend is only a lover you're not committed to” striking a chord with anyone who has ever found themselves as close to a heart-bursting love as you get whilst still remaining firmly forever in the friend-zone. It’s minor chords and percussive guitar playing providing a solid ground for the lilting vocals of Damien Jurado and remains the evening’s high-point.

Ending on maybe one of his best loved songs as the opening fingerpicked notes to ‘Ohio’ ring out from the speakers, Jurado finishes tonight with a song that encapsulates everything about his music, that sums up his songwriting and why it is held in such high regard amongst peers and fans. Damien Jurado is at his best when he is conjuring up songs that serve as small budget films set to music. Sepia tinted dramas and characters bursting with depth and heart that become lodged in your thoughts long after the music has faded out and Damien Jurado has left the stage.