SXSW 2012: Daniel Johnston's Graphic Novel Brings Indie Rock Royalty, Packed Crowd to Belmont Lounge

The revered underground musician was honored with covers by Built to Spill, Kimya Dawson and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit at the Brooklyn Vegan-hosted release party for "Space Ducks: An Infinite Comic Book of Musical Greatness."
Colin Stutz

A packed house of fans and well-wishers turned out to the Belmont Lounge Tuesday night for an official South by Southwest showcase to celebrate the release of Daniel Johnston's new graphic novel, "Space Ducks: An Infinite Comic Book of Musical Greatness." The event, which was hosted by Brooklyn Vegan, included performances by Built to Spill, Will Sheff of Okkervil River, R. Stevie Moore, Kimya Dawson and Johnston himself. Alex Maas of Black Angeles, Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit and Irish folk singer Foy Vance all each performed Johnston covers before the renowned songwriter took the stage.

Nearly all who performed had some accolades to offer Johnston, the legendarily troubled outsider artist-turned-indie rock darling whose notoriety was cemented by Kurt Cobain when the Nirvana frontman famously wore a T-shirt of the cover to Johnston's album, Hi, How Are You?. "I've always known that I owe him," said Sheff mid-set, thanking him for the success that followed Okkervil River's 2002 full-length debut on which Johnston was featured on the track, "Happy Hearts," before launching into a cover of Johnston's "Cold Hard World."

"I came from the toughest shit hole in all of Northern Ireland, so to be here in Austin singing a Daniel Johnston song with Daniel Johnston present is the biggest honor," said Vance later before playing Johnston's "Hey Joe".

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For the most part Johnston let the others do the talking, arriving during Sheff's set dressed in a blue T-shirt and grey sweat pants, he smoked cigarettes side-stage with a drink in hand and watched the show with a smile. Seattle rockers Motopony acted as his backing band and played through several of their own songs before Johnston joined them onstage for the night's main event. Reading lyrics from a notebook off a music stand, as is common for Johnston, gripping the mic stand in one hand and the microphone in the other, he played "Rock This Town" and "Speeding Motorcycle," among a few others.

"I'd like to make this very special Christmas wish for you all," he said, as Sheff, Maas, Dawson and Vance joined him onstage, starting into "True Love Will Find You in the End" to close his set.

American indie-rock mainstays Built to Spill closed the show, picking up the tempo with a blistering three-lead-guitars-up-front set that included "The Plan," "Untrustable, Part 2," "Dystopian Dream Girl" and "You Were Right." Frontman Doug Martsch was not talkative but noted about halfway through that after a late start band would play "until they make us stop," joking, "which is probably about three minutes." When the venue did finally make Built to Spill stop playing it was past 2 a.m. but the audience still wanted more, chanting, "One more song!" -- a request that went unfulfilled.

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