Ahoy, PopWatchers! As I entered the Spiegeltent at South Street Seaport’s Pier 17 on a balmy New York City night, I felt more like Johnny Depp wearing eyeliner than a critic; the riverside venue had an eerie, carnival-like atmosphere befitting a night of pirate revelry. But the intimate (read: confined) space wasn’t a bad place to hear the bouncy four-chord pop of Badly Drawn Boy, the U.K. export who made some critical waves in 2000 with his Mercury Prize-winning The Hour of Bewilderbeast. His follow-up, the soundtrack for About a Boy, was less shambling and quirky but demonstrated his mastery over winning melodies and pop songcraft. The three albums released since, however, have lacked some of that early magic. Would the new songs sound, in that most hoary of rock-journalism cliches, better live? Or has the Boy jumped the shark?
As it turns out, a bit of both. Backed by an on-point four-piece band, BDB, aka Damon Gough (pictured), drew on songs from throughout his discography over the two-hour set. More recent tracks, like “What Is It Now” (from Have You Fed The Fish?) and “Degrees of Separation” (from his latest, the almost-a-comeback-album Born in the U.K.) sounded great, stripped of the albums’ glossy production. Still, the best moments came from his back catalog: A mostly-solo three-song run of the folky, Nick Drake-like “The Shining,” “A Minor Incident” and “Once Around the Block” showcased the sparkling brilliance of his first two CDs, as did performances of “Magic in the Air” and “Silent Sigh” that found Gough trading in his guitar for a seat at the keyboard.
A seat would’ve been nice as the evening wore on and some of the newer songs ran out of gas, but a small contingent of future Obsessive Fans of the Week didn’t let that stop them, shouting and dancing like pirates awash with grog. (“He was good, but they really liked him,” noted my lady friend.) I don’t blame ‘em: There are worse things to do on a Tuesday night than seeing a schlubby bearded guy with an oversize beanie permanently attached to his head playing a collection of good-to-great pop songs. Let’s not throw Badly Drawn Boy to the sharks just yet.