Underground icon Daniel Johnston’s show in Miami on Friday involved a lot of rarities. It was Johnston’s first show in Miami proper ever. It was one of the first large-scale evenings of both art and music by the same person at Grand Central. It was also a rare show in Miami that started and ended early. Seriously, Johnston’s set was a blink-and-you’ll miss it affair, starting before 10 p.m. and ending a brisk 25 or so minutes later.
Presented by local organization G&G Fine Art Consulting, the evening focused largely on Johnston’s visual art, an oeuvre that’s slightly sketchy and cartoonish and imbued with gentle humor. This is the kind of event in which Grand Central boasts a leg up over its traditional “rock club” peers. With a flexible space and few permanent fixtures, the club lent itself well to a temporary, gallery-type space along its eastern side, with Johnston prints and paintings set up on partitions under proper lighting. At a merchandise table, attendees could score Johnston prints and even greeting cards along with the usual T-shirts and records.
The man’s musical performance, after an opening set by locals Arboles Libres, was not necessarily anticlimactic so much as incredibly relaxed and casual. Accompanied by an acoustic guitarist, Johnston cheerfully chose not to get too obscure — his body of work, after all, is massive — and instead picked out a few fan favorites and one cover. At some points, he almost seemed apologetic about not getting deeper into his catalog. “The next song is a pain, if you’ve heard it before,” he explained at one point, smiling and looking at the floor, before launching into “The Sun Shines Down on Me.”
A lot has been made of Johnston’s supposed mental state, and he seemed fine in that department on Friday night. What was more troubling, though, was his physical health — his hands, and, sometimes, the rest of his body shook as he paged through sheets of his own lyrics as he performed. It served as a poignant counterpoint to the actual content of the songs, which seemed relentlessly upbeat.
“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances” fit in context as a reminder to the ever-cynical art-world glitterati. A rendition of the Beatles’ “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” was a happy singalong. The final number, “True Love Will Find You in the End,” ended things on a note of sunny optimism. And that’s about it — much more probably would have been too taxing for Johnston, either to his physical health, or to his ebullient mood. Fans were lucky to enjoy both for the time they did.
Partial Set List:
-”Walking the Cow”
-”The Sun Shines Down on Me”
-”Life in Vain”
-”Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances”
-”You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” (Beatles cover)
-”True Love Will Find You in the End”