Nick Thune / Damien Jurado L'Astral, Montreal QC, January 24
Published Jan 25, 2020The yin and yang of comedy and tragedy have been over-intellectualized since early human civilizations first developed those sad and happy masks. That sweet polarity is the basis of so much modern culture, but few have the guts to actually try them simultaneously, particularly in a live setting. Enter Nick Thune and Damien Jurado, a standup comedian and an incredibly stoic singer-songwriter whose very decision to tour together is, in and of itself, an exciting and daring act.
Dubbed the "Sad Music, Sad Comedy" tour, the show's very existence was born of pain. Though they're both masters of their crafts (pristine folk songs about American decay and scraggly observational humour about the act of shitting, respectively), Jurado and Thune didn't cross paths until the memorial service for their mutual friend Richard Swift, the Washingtonian musician and producer who died after a lengthy battle with alcohol addiction at 41. That was two years ago, and now these unlikely bedfellows have developed one hell of an interesting show.
To be fair, they're certainly walking an emotional tightrope. Warming up the evening, Thune promised a one-two punch: Jurado's sparse folk songs would make the audience cry, while his set would make them want to die. His early jokes did make for a jarring shift when Jurado came out and whispered his timeless, classic-sounding tunes about heartbreak and despair. Even he needed a break from strumming his nylon strings and gently singing when he became verklempt from the heft of his own words. A true American folk hero, Jurado's set was a reminder that he's a quiet legend in his field.
The strange tonal shifts affected Thune's set, to be sure. Acting as a de facto headliner, he brought a significant amount of energy to a stage that had so recently felt mournful. There were times when he almost seemed uncomfortable, joking that Jurado's fans probably thought "This American Life" was comedy and gently lashing out at audience members for acting too serious during his bits.
But rather than seeming insecure, Thune's discomfort felt like a different version of the same vulnerability Jurado had shown onstage. His comedy went off in all sorts of directions, offering both observational wit and plenty of delightful stupidity. He delivered one-liners while riffing on a delay-soaked acoustic guitar, then told a long story about a shit session gone wrong. It was hilarious, a perfect chaser for Jurado's morose reminders of mortality.
Jurado joined Thune for a brief third act, when they shared a stupid song about piss that they'd written together on the road. They swapped off and on as they shared funny tour stories, and Jurado revealed that he had been wearing a Korn shirt under his standard-issue Seattle flannel the entire time. Thune had bought it for him at a vintage store, and it was a truly hilarious reveal that would have gotten more laughs were we not in Quebec (a place where nu-metal will never be funny, because it has never stopped being cool).
The pair played a handful of silly Richard Swift tunes, including a song Thune wrote with him about Iron Man and his well-known track "The Bully." It was a fitting conclusion that seemingly tied together the emotional highs and lows of the evening, but thankfully it was low-stakes enough that we didn't feel like we were being beaten over the head with a life lesson.
While some audiences may not be open-minded enough for the entire experience, it's the exact kind of variety show we could all use a little more of. After all, in a more traditional lineup, who is going to open for Damien Jurado? A shittier version of Damien Jurado, that's who. And Thune's silliness is only amplified by a pervasive sense of doom and gloom — you certainly wouldn't get that from a normal comedy opener. Here, Jurado and Thune have threaded the needle and achieved something truly special. It's a live dramedy show that will toy with your emotions in the best possible way.