Live Review ::: David Thomas Broughton @ Mao Livehouse, Hangzhou (Friday 20th July)

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Great art can come from and be found in the most unexpected places. Originally hailing from the sleepy market town of Otley in West Yorkshire, live tonight in the sweltering metropolis of Hangzhou, David Thomas Broughton is a long way from his former home. And whilst Hangzhou has a proud history when it comes to matters of the arts, it wouldn’t be outlandish to suggest it’s not often you get to enjoy music of this nature and caliber performed here.

It should be noted at this point, Broughton, this evening, isn’t all that far from his current home, relatively speaking anyway. Currently based in Seoul, South Korea, this is a man who has even made and performed music in North Korea and there’s not many people from Otley who can say that I’d wager. Of course, whilst residing there he was only able to perform occasionally for other foreigners living in the country but that didn’t stop him from writing, recording and collaborating with other artists via email, including one Beth Orton no less.

On with tonight’s gig. A listen to Broughton’s back catalogue, and reading up on his somewhat unique attitude towards live performance, gives this reviewer a refresher course in what to expect but that doesn’t make it any less rewarding or gripping. Whether much of the young audience is expecting what they end up getting is open to debate but I am impressed by the open-mindedness of the crowd and their receptiveness to Broughton’s approach.

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Whilst it is unlikely 99.9% of the people here understand the lyrical reference to not being able to afford a pasty (for the uninitiated, a baked savory favorite of Brits) they nevertheless lap up the endearing English eccentricity Broughton brings to the table, along with his knowingly clumsy stagecraft. It’s a curious juxtaposition in fact, to have such deeply mournful intonations, wrapped up in this melancholy, off-kilter, and sometimes difficult to absorb cacophony, met with beaming smiles across the venue. The smiles are there though because much of what Broughton does is funny, once you intuitively glean the humor and can accept that the joke’s on you as much as it is him.

Broughton’s philosophy is to be free and open, and to not fear what we might describe as mistakes. Why cover up what makes us human? A rebuttal to this might be it is just as valid an artistic statement to try painstakingly to put across precisely what it is you wish to convey, note for note. If you are clear in what you wish your audience to see and hear then there is nothing wrong with striving to render this as perfectly as possible. That aside, it is undoubtedly the case that Broughton’s methodology brings moments of beautiful transcendence, of a kind that would, surely, be unobtainable to those attempting to play simply the same arrangements, in exactly the same way, every time they perform a song live. It might at times feel like mining in the darkness but when Broughton hits the right seam he really does strike gold. You are treated to something you would not have heard otherwise, and that nobody will ever hear in quite the same way again.

After detailing the nature of Broughton’s music and performance style, it is important to ensure this review doesn’t suffer from one massively glaring omission before signing off. So, to finish, it must be stated, with no ambiguity, this man creates beautiful sounding songs which, for this reviewer, no amount of playful self-sabotage can succeed in undermining. A miraculous feat in itself. If you get the chance to see David Thomas Broughton live then grab the opportunity as you won’t witness anything else quite like it. In the meantime, check out his discography here.

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