Daniel Johnston - Runnin' with the Devil at the Annex in Madison

Daniel Johnoston  at the Annex in Madison
 Daniel Johnston

Daniel Johnston, the Austin-based cult genius with bipolar disorder, started the night with his guitar strap falling off during the opening bars of the first song. Pausing, to reattach the strap, he calmly stuttered, “Ah… Oh….,” before restarting the opening number again. Really, those first few moments encapsulated the Daniel Johnston persona; the creative genius who lives on the mental edge, delivering soul-searching lyrics, straddling the fine line between serious and sometimes almost nursery-rhyme-like verses. Will it be a genius performance or a train wreck? You be the judge. 

Finishing a short solo set with the Beatles' “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, Johnston came back out with the two opening acts as his back-up band. Calling song titles out quickly to the waiting band members as they sometimes struggled to start songs, the show took on the feeling of a large Jam session. He asked the audience for requests and shouts for “Casper” and “Speeding Motorcycle” flooded the stage.

Like a crazy uncle that cracks everyone up at the family reunion, Johnston had a comforting demeanor that permeated the stage. Sporadic guitar playing and reading lyrics from a music stand were the rule of the night, with Johnston finishing songs before the band realized they were over on several occasions. I guess being a cult hero doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be tight!

A crowd of about 200 came to witness the cult phenomenon. Genius or train wreck? I would say this night’s performance was somewhere in the middle range on the cult legend scale.

Mark Waldoch of Milwaukee’s The Celebrated Workingman and Madison songwriter Marty Finkel opened the show with two surprisingly good sets. Waldoch's comment on his innaugral Madison audience was priceless, “Wow, Madison. You actually pay attention!”

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