Danielson Famile, Kimya Dawson / Northsix / Dec. 3, 2004
Kimya Dawson is quite possibly the only person in the whole world who can get on stage in a big furry skunk costume, accompanied by a percussionist dude in a dress and bunny ears, as well as a doll also in a furry animal costume, and make me want to cry. It’s not just that her songs are sad. It’s that there’s so much hope and love and goodness in her lyrics despite all the sadness. That just kills me, because I wish I felt that way. I wish I believed that a few chords on a beat-up acoustic guitar could change the world. That hugs and kisses will conquer shock and awe. But I just can’t.
Kimya’s performance hit me particularly hard because I’d forgotten how much I like her. I hadn’t listened to any of her records since I wrote this, which was nearly two years ago. But that fragile little voice is like a cup of warm hot chocolate.
Daniel Smith’s voice, on the other hand, is like a bucket of ice water in the face. Near the end of his set with the Danielson Famile, he asked the audience to join him in a sing-along, and everybody just laughed, because no mere mortal can sing that fucking high.
Bon Scott, Justin Hawkins—you guys are Barry White compared to this dude. Even Mariah Carey kneels before him.
Now, if you were blessed with a wail that could make rabid pitbulls cower in fear, what would you do with it? Why, you’d get your siblings and some friends together, dress everybody up in matching white medical scrubs with their names sewn on them, and you’d be a Christian folk-pop band. As All Music says, “They sound like Captain Beefheart's Magic Band joined by the Partridge Family at some roadside revival along the Jersey Turnpike,” and, well, I can’t really come up with anything to top that.
The Danielson experience can’t quite be conveyed with mere words. There are synchronized hand gestures involved, as well as two drummers, a violinist and a banjo player (The latter being none other than Sufjan Stevens, who lurked in the background and was referred to by Daniel as “Steve.” Due to shoddy mixing, I couldn’t hear him sing or play at all. But I could drown in his dreamy blue eyes.)
All that doesn’t even cover half of the craziness going on that night. Before the Famile’s set, Daniel came out to talk about the handcrafted art objects he makes, “Great Comfort Stuff.” On sale at the merch table: Greeting cards saying you’re sorry. Gift wrap. Soap. Heart-shaped blinders. A wooden heart containing miniature body parts. That last one will set you back $400. But hey, this is ART. This guy was in the Whitney Biennial!
Halfway through the Danielson set, the rest of the band left the stage, only to be replaced by a giant cloth tree. Yes, a tree. Daniel climbed inside of it and played a brief set of songs from his new-ish solo record, Brother Is To Son. I kept waiting for some sort of Spinal Tap moment where the tree would collapse or catch on fire or Daniel wouldn’t be able to get out, but it didn’t happen.
And people think Marilyn Manson is weird?!
For an encore, the Famile lead the crowd in some Christmas carols. Everybody seemed to know the words except for me and my friend Katie. This reminded me of when I was in the school chorus in fifth grade, and I would always hum instead of singing the references to Jesus, because I thought that the Jewish God would get mad at me.