It’s not every young sensitive singer-songwriter that could open a show with a sparse, seven-minute cover of Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Troy’ but that is exactly what Jay Brannan did. By the end of the torturous opener it has become apparent that Brannan has a devoted fan base with a rammed-to-the-rafters Crawdaddy hanging off his every word. An interesting start then. Brannan’s is a heartwarming success story: a genuine DIY effort that has seen him sell thousands of records and play shows all over the world based almost solely on a bunch of YouTube videos without the backing of a label, manager, agent or any other industry help. Given his current tour of Europe has pretty much sold out everywhere, his down-to-Earth approach certainly seems to be working.
So what of the songs? Well, as likeable as Brannan is, it is very hard to fully recommend the songs. Drawing mainly on his experiences as a young gay man in Texas and then in LA, there is a certain tone of lyric and chord that will draw empathy from some and derision from others. While tracks like ‘Half Boyfriend’ and ‘Can’t Have It All’ are performed immaculately and showcase his wonderful voice, they also show Brannan’s lack of maturity as a songwriter. They are underdeveloped musically, painfully obvious lyrically and rely far too much on that golden tenor vocal to maintain interest. For a man clearly interested in gay rights and gender issues, it is odd to find a song like ‘Housewife’ in his oeuvre, which really only serves to redouble established gender norms and push homosexual identity further into stereotyped pigeonholes. However, he was only 19 when he wrote it so we’ll give him a break on that one.
It is not all bad though and the undoubted highlight of the night was the title track from his debut album Goddamned, a bleak and angry portrayal of religious bigotry with a pretty catchy chorus; a small beacon of potential amidst a pretty dull set. Finally there was also a totally non-ironic cover of The Cranberries ‘Zombie’ which, oddly enough, fitted the mood pretty well and had the enamored crowd dutifully singing along, “With their tanks and their bombs, and their bombs…”, come on, you know how it goes.