Friday Night: Daniel Johnston's 50th Birthday At Fitzgerald's

Daniel Johnston Fitzgerald's January 14, 2011

Check out our slideshow from Friday night's birthday festivities.

News had already reached Aftermath before we arrived at Fitzgerald's for Daniel Johnston's 50th birthday concert that he could only get through two and a half songs at his Cactus Music in-store performance.

That didn't keep a massive throng from showing up on a cold night to see the reclusive Johnston. With all kinds of theater, music and arts people and friends - like Catastrophic Theater's Jason Nodler, who wrote and directed two plays about Johnston's life - in attendance, the night held out the promise of something truly special.

But after a touching moment when the entire crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to the Texas folk hero and he acknowledged their love with a heartfelt "Thank you," the solo portion of Johnston's show indeed turned into a train wreck. His guitar playing was almost child-like, at times completely falling apart, although he plunged ahead.

Johnston seemed rattled and fritzed, and it was pretty painful and sad to watch.

He left the stage after only three numbers, and we had to wonder if he had cratered and the show was over. But members of Spain Colored Orange quickly filtered back to the stage, and within five minutes, Johnston returned without his guitar.

The show took on some semblance of professionalism as SCO laid down a solid rock groove for Johnston, who seemed suddenly energized and had a semblance of confidence.

And when Johnston dropped into the old Beatles chestnut "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," unannounced, with his voice cracking and reaching, he almost sucked all the air out of the room. The magic materialized out of the ether as Johnston infused his interpretation with an emotional terror, and let us glimpse the purity and beauty his peculiar style can create.

Following up with a muscular version of "Speeding Motorcycle" and a heartbreaking take on "True Love Will Find You In the End," Johnston sealed the deal with everyone in the room. It truly was some kind of brief, illusory magic, and we felt lucky to have him in our midst, frail and damaged though he might be.