Though Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy, has two of the year’s best albums (the just-released “Have You Fed the Fish” and this spring’s soundtrack to “About A Boy,” both on ArtistDirect), he has a reputation for being something of a pariah live, his soused shows often disjointed, erratic and straight-up messy. So it was a pleasant surprise to find Gough and his band with their heads on straight, playing a disciplined set of singer-songwriter rock much more amiable than annoying.
Gough walks a fine line between casual coffeehouse charm and pretentious art-rock outcast; even as he hides his eyes under his trademark wool hat, he glances at the front row, a small smile creeping from behind his slacker-chic beard. He walks the line in his music, too, which encompasses influences from Jeff Buckley to Leonard Bernstein in tightly arranged theatrical pop that’s as effective played by a full band as it would be stripped-down to just sparse acoustic guitar. And his lyrics — often playful as they are — also tell a story of connection; one of the highlights of both “Fish” and the concert was “You Were Right,” where Gough remembers “doing nothing” the nights various pop stars — Sinatra, Cobain, Lennon — died. Nothing, that is, except staying up to “(watch) the news with everyone.”
That sort of passive connectivity was Gough’s M.O. for most of the show, which faltered only a bit toward the end with a couple of false starts and an occasionally mispaced set of songs. On the title track to his newest album, Gough sings, “you’ve got to rewind/to go forward.” For this show, he seems to have done just that, making up for his past indiscretions with a well-planned, well-executed marathon of affecting pop.