Daniel Knox leaves the stage at approximately 10.45pm. Strewn at his feet are seventeen crumpled sheets of A4 paper each containing the name of a song performed during the previous seventy five minutes. Most performers normally have a dedicated set list but Knox prefers to peel off each page, crush it by hand and drop them nonchalantly at his feet at the end of each song.
This should not be particularly surprising given that Knox is quite unlike the vast majority of other singer songwriters. Impossible to categorise, the 35 year old Chicago resident namechecks his favourite artists as Al Jolson and Judy Garland and is certainly a one off with obvious nods to Scott Walker, Jacques Brel and early Jon Grant.
Famed for his self-confessed passion for nocturnal wandering throughout the city of Chicago for inspiration and his tendency for visiting hotel lobbies late at night to seek out unaccompanied pianos, the 35 year old Knox became tagged under the Americana umbrella following successful tours as support to The Handsome Family.
His set at Whelans tonight is a joy to behold as he manages to recreate, accompanied only by his Roland 700 digital piano and a melodica, the striking vocal and keyboard delivery so captivating in his studio work. The clouded humour in his lyrics is both dry and dark depicting tales of strippers, death, cancer, syphilis ,time travel and imaginary friends but often in a humorous and tongue in cheek manner.
Despite admitting that he only sang for the first time publicly at the age of 23, his vocal range is quite stunning, from bass to sweet falsetto and his piano work is equally impressive despite proclaiming to be a self-taught pianist who only started playing at quite a late age
Before playing Disaster, the title track of his debut album, he recalls having returned home after his first appearance in Ireland and how a fan contacted him to say how pleased he was to hear the track used on the Discovery Channel. “Used without my permission’’ he adds “The Discovery Channel financed my next trip to Ireland!’’
Armageddon he offers, is his end of the world song, composed after a very heavy nights drinking and regaining consciousness the following morning still intoxicated yet managing to stumble to a café for breakfast .‘’Used to drink an awful lot, was really good at it, don’t drink now, retired. First thing I read was that we were at war again with someone or other so this is my contribution!’’ he jokes - Armageddon’s coming soon, The sun will crash into the moon, But we will still have a breakfast.
His self-titled album released in 2015 features predominately in the set. The whimsical Don’t Touch Me a song about germs though more specificially "a song about a girl with germs. Ghostsong is introduced as a song about death "specifically mine, when I go I intend hanging around for a while to push things off shelves and the like."
In contrast to the more macabre songs his set also includes some genuinely nostalgic tales depicting bygone days of Knox’s youth. White Oaks Mall dedicated to the demise of the traditional American Shopping Mall, "Like a dying relative in hospital waiting to drop off.” It recalls happier times spent in innocence and similarly By The Venture mourns the close of the discount stores during his teens "like Morrison’s in the UK" he notes.
Knox finishes his set by giving the audience the opportunity to purchase a photo of him at the merchandise for €10 "free CD with every purchase" he adds though with typical humour .
It’s unlikely, despite his entrancing vocal style and wonderful songs, that Knox will achieve the notoriety that he richly deserves. More probable is that the cinematic characteristics of his work will result in his music featuring in a movie soundtrack on the big screen. Let’s hope it’s a blockbuster!
Review and photograph by Declan Culliton