Show Review + Photos: DAMIEN JURADO @ The Earl, 05/23/2012

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” – Frank Zappa

Damien Jurado wants us all to know that he is not sad any more. In fact, he was never all that sad and dower to start with but that’s what many have presupposed based on the melancholy atmosphere and content of many of his songs and live performances. He very intently proclaimed this tour to be the Farewell to Sadness tour and that a new era was beginning for him musically. In a post-show conversation, Jurado made it clear that he is done with the dark singer-songwriter persona after 15 years of that seeming to be the norm. He seemed genuinely excited about the musical progress that was now possible as a result of this transformation. Amazingly, William Haun and I were witnesses to this metamorphosis as it appeared to come into full bloom at the Earl in East Atlanta on Wednesday, May 23rd.

As Damien Jurado and his band mates (Kyle Zantos on guitar and iPad, Barry Uhl on keys, Brad Stemke on drums and percussion, and Jesse Hurlburt on bass) took the stage, I had no idea of what we were in for. I was interested to see him with a backing band but could not have predicted what would take place over the next hour and a half. The first clue should have been the absence of a chair and the presence of a fully upright mic in Jurado’s spot.

The show opened with “Nothing Is The News” and cranked through “Life Away From the Garden,” “Maraqopa,” “This Time Next Year,” “Reel to Reel,” “Working Titles,” “Everyone a Star,” and “Museum of Flight” from his most recent release Maraqopa. The band played with incredible energy as Jurado performed with an intensity that I haven’t seen from him live (with the exception of “Ghost of David” from his previous show at the Earl as captured by William Haun). His vocals were particularly strong and were contoured with both reverb and effects appropriately applied by Zantos through an iPad. While the Maraqopa portion was incredible, the best was yet to come.

The air was just beginning to crackle with the electricity of change as Jurado had already been more animated than I have seen previously as he gestured and danced about the stage. The band transitioned from the Maraqopa material jamming through the 12 minute version of “Horizon” blowing the show wide open with what I can only describe as a psychedelic punk-infused freestyle by Jurado as he bellowed into the microphone “Love is a circle, That’s never broken, It is eternal! There’s no time for the STATIC! NO!” and the folk-rock-spiritual “Let Us All In” that brought the house down.

At one point, Jurado stood on the subs and declared that the midnight church service was underway and we were invited to join the celebration with hand clap percussion as he called for all to have an open doorway to seek shelter from the storm. He made it clear that we were witnessing a seismic musical shift for him as he was shedding the weight of the depressed singer-songwriter we had all grown to love in favor of a man set free to make a joyful noise and dance about with abandon. Some laughed nervously, maybe in hopes that he was kidding, but he grew more emphatic that this was the start of something new and freeing for him and for those who truly appreciate his growth as an artist.

To show that he was transitioning gradually thus making the change less stark, he came back out and played “Rachel and Cali” and “Sheets” solo before unplugging altogether to step out into the crowd to close with “Arkansas.” As the house lights came up, all I could say was, “Wow…” knowing that I had just been privileged enough to see the progressive transformation live.

Brad Stemke, drummer and percussionist for Jurado’s touring band, expressed that there was a marked difference in the energy of their shows and Jurado himself since returning from Europe in early May and that they seemed to be hitting their stride with this batch of shows. It was clear that the band genuinely enjoyed playing together and touring in community together. Jurado confirmed that he was playing with new found joy and energy. He wanted to move on from the singer-songwriter stuff that had never really reflected his personality or what he enjoys musically. It seems as if he too has paid a visit to Maraqopa and come away a new man.