A couple Monday’s ago it was a good night for Damien Jurado here in DC. Ticket sales were apparently brisk enough to move his show from the backroom to the upstairs at The Black Cat, and saying that the audience was super-fan heavy would be putting it lightly. Jurado, who has been making critically lauded music for the past 15 years or so, was quick to point out that he hasn’t exactly been pulling in the biggest crowds, playing a show here in the past to only the bartender and the sound guy – and the sound guy left early. So from the get go it was clear that the audience’s excitement to hear him perform music from his latest effort, Maraqopa, was matched ten-fold from the stage, making for a triumph of an evening in every way imaginable.
Kicking things of with a blistering version of “Nothing Is The News” (which is Maraqopa’s opener as well) Jurado and his band settled into a groove that had more to do with punk or space rock that what you might hear on record. Normally I’d call my own bluff here and call that out as lazy, canned assessment, but one thing that cannot be stressed enough about Damien Jurado live is how much raw, chaotic energy his music crackles with. Tracks like “Reel to Reel” and “We Are What We Dream” became tour de forces of sonic exploration that played like escapees from one of Ken Keesy’s Acid Tests - dispatches from the dark side of the moon.
It wasn’t all sound and fury though. In fact it was the quieter moments that largely defined the show. The audience stood hushed as Jurado’s voice soared above the gentle strains of “This Time Next Year”, “Everyone A Star” and “Museum Of Flight.” So hushed in fact that during the DC name checking track “Working Titles”, rather than the crowd breaking out into enthusiastic cheers to the lyric “What’s it like / for you in Washington.” There was only a barely perceived “whoop” that retreated back into the dark of darkness of the club almost as quickly as it had sprung forth.
About three quarters of the way through the set, the band exited the stage, leaving only Jurado, a guitar and a chair to finish off the evening. Pausing before each song to express his gratitude to everyone in attendance, stripped down versions of older favorites “Rachel and Cali”, “So On Nevada” and “Ohio” made their appearance (at last), but it was the final song “Arkansas”, featuring the audience singing along in unison that ended up being the highlight of the evening. “Fade Out / This is where the credits roll our name” sang Jurado and his newly acquired “band”, with a series of rising “ooohs” punctuating the tail end of the coda. Performed at the front of the stage and with no amplification, it was a deeply human moment in an already humanizing performance, and one that cemented the evening as one that nobody in attendance, or Damien Jurado, will forget for a long time to come.