– THE CASTLE HOTEL, MANCHESTER –
‘This is a song about germs,’ breathes Daniel Knox. A few beads of sweat drip down his forehead as he introduces ‘Don’t Touch Me’. This starkly titled song taken from his self-titled latest album, he tells us beforehand, is about his germophobic tendencies narrated with a slight sense of self-aware cruelty and evidences his fascinating voyeuristic view on life – a continuing theme on ‘Laurence & MacArthur’ (taken from the street corner of a former residency) which finds Knox’s narration shifting to specific locations, transporting us back to his childhood when he would sit on his porch and videotape car crashes.
He looks a lonely figure on stage, perched low to the ground using a (much) borrowed keyboard stand. He puts this down to being ‘incredibly unprepared to play in a foreign country’. The stand almost seems to be a metaphor for his character: well travelled and slightly shaky (or ‘dancing’ as he puts it) yet steadfast and functional – less is definitely more with Knox.
Each song is represented by an individual sheet of paper, placed in front of Knox’s piano. At the end of a song, sometimes before the last notes are played, he screws up the sheet and tosses it behind him like a bad idea or a crazy invention scribbled down never to see the light of day. Another memory shared, another story told. Occasionally, Knox deems a song unfitting for the moment and the sheet is never to be revealed to us and, at least for tonight, joins the scattered papers on the floor. If he had a bin it would make for an exciting little moment at the end of each song.
For a man of stocky, gruff-seeming stature Knox conducts his piano with a quiet delicacy. On songs like ‘You Win Some, You Tie Some’ and ‘Ghostsong’ there are some beautiful impressionistic flowing chords and cadences. The latter is about Knox’s amusing and twisted version of heaven – coming back and haunting those who vexed him in life. It even includes Knox singing a haunting and alluring ‘Wooooo’.
On ‘Blue Car’ and ‘David Charmichael’ Knox shuffles across to his laptop and sings along to the backing track – it’s a welcome shift from just voice and piano – giving more depth to his song writing, it displays a different and darker tone to his sound with eerie synths and tense drums. It ends up replicating his latest album, in a live sense, incredibly well.
Though solitary, there’s something rather comforting and welcoming about his presence. His rich, lush baritone voice is a perfect storytelling tool. And tell stories he does. Each song is a little piece of Knox’s life, fantasies and thoughts that he pours out to us then seems to sweep up at the end with a droll anecdote. A little interaction with the audience is always welcome, Knox no doubt learning this from support slots where one has the difficult task of winning over a crowd who are unlikely to be there to see you. The result is a hypnotic mix of mumbling, shuffling shyness and confident, crooning charm, and all here tonight have definitely been captivated by him.
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