Brighton is rich with quirk, and you needn’t look further for proof than the venues. The Greys will find you wandering away from the usual musical goldmines in the city to a quieter, unbalanced part of town. Dejected from the expected buzz, this Tuesday night entices you to leave the appealing life of the city centre to head to the quaint outskirts. This most certainly is not a long-winded manner of saying that this author got lost en route. Rather fitting, then, that The Greys would host an artist as outlying as Daniel Knox.
This night of many firsts finds commonality in the prospect of getting lost. Be it the lightly-challenging excursion to the venue, or the music that awaited, Daniel Knox seems to form an ethereal connection with The Greys. “I like getting lost”, Knox recalls, “which is why I set myself an extra hour aside when driving to a venue: to get lost”. For the first night of his UK tour, the Illinoisan is right at home.
With the release of the acutely grand ‘Chasescene’ last December, Knox has moulded himself into a commanding performer. He is a sole character, accompanied by nothing but a messy stack of lyric sheets and solitary bottled water. Daniel Knox is the primary focus, perched at his keyboard as the charming awkwardness of the venue forces heads to negotiate the uneasy layout. Getting a glimpse of the man – admirable beard, delivery driver uniform, comfortingly regular – at work is rewarding. Knox is a fantastic and underappreciated live act; a deep compelling vocal, his skill on the keyboard and his quick wit.
His latest record ‘Chasescene’ dominates a respectable portion of the setlist. An anecdote introduces the cheery plonk of ‘Man Is An Animal’. He prefaces the song with a spurious tale of how one day he woke up and, in an attempt to pick up the paper on his porch, found himself unintentionally kicking it, his hands failing to subdue his feet. Eventually making his way to the city centre, he speculated how far he could go: “no-one can arrest me for chasing a paper”. If the story seemed absurd, his dry countenance makes you believe in the farcical event.
The packed congregated crowd are in near-constant awe. Daniel Knox is a contrasting figure: his apparent normality only enhances the transformative and surreal landscapes his songs operate in. When he takes on the title track from his latest record, lyrics like: “I love you by the neck” are recited with pure disdain. The audience are silent. And as his hands shimmer across the keyboard during the bridge, necks crane to spectate.
Be it a dazzling rendition of ‘The Poisoner’ (“my favourite song off the record”) or the cheery punch of ‘Leftovers’, the songs from ‘Chasescene’ remain entrancing despite the far less illustrious arrangements. The stripped back performances do, at times, lack the flourish of the studio recordings (see: ‘Capitol’). However his engagement with the crowd through stories about his love for arcade crane games, his love for Brighton finds everyone on board from the off.
Older songs get their share as well. ‘Armageddonsong’ and ‘You Win Some, You Tie Some’ receive rapturous applause and, with the former, laughter. Throughout the fourteen-song, eighty-minute set, Daniel Knox seems to improvise with implicit nonchalance. He picks through his stack of lyric sheets, selecting one then screwing it and tossing it away after completion. The floor resembles a writer after a frustrated evening. Knox deals with a pleasant, determined heckler before a dog barks through the encore. It is a sporadic and delightfully intimate evening. Even early sound issues fail to prevent Knox from persevering.
Over the course of the evening, Daniel Knox reminds the audience of his love towards his new album. Recalling the time he held a vinyl copy for the first time and weeping, his performances only confirm his affection. He is repeatedly funny, often emotive and persistently mesmirising. While the whimsy venue may restrain the Gothic ballads to flaunt, Knox does not let that stop him. Carried by nothing but his talent, Daniel Knox kicks off 2019 with a standard-setting performance that the audience will cherish.