Mastered by the enigmatic Kramer, ‘Daniel Johnston Alive in New York City’ is a joyous listen filled with laughs, cheers and a feeling of great positivity I have not heard on a record for quite some time. Recorded in New York circa 2000, this live album showcases everything that people love about the “outsider” musician; his integrity, his humour and his endless charm.

Mr Johnston is one of my favourite songwriters. He’s brutally honest, he’s equally kind and full of wisdom fellas with long grey beards would be envious of. He sings like he has lived a thousand lives, made the same mistakes over and over, but smiled with every corner turned.

Johnston’s little love songs, which are heavily influenced by the Beatles and other 60s icons, are filled with great pain and sadness. Often centred around unrequited love and the “surreal”, his out of tune guitars and pianos hit a spot of the ear probably only held by a select few.

I personally know people who think his music is absolute garbage. I dare say they miss the point. It’s the realness of what he’s making that strikes me as important. No glossy production or perfect playing, heart and soul is first on the list. The primitive nature of Daniel Johnston is what makes him great. The use of natural distortion of the guitar and voice – no matter what the circumstances – shroud these songs in innocent mystery.

This innocence and mystique is captured here via 13 tracks of an eclectic range of material from the Johnston songbook. His best known work such as “Casper The Friendly Ghost” and “Funeral Home” blended with covers such as “Live And Let Die”, provide an entertaining set made even more enjoyable through the quips of Johnston himself and the laughter and joy you can feel from the audience.

“Frustrated Artist” and “The Spook ” get raucous applause and cheers from the attentive crowd. At other moments though you can hear a pin drop when he’s playing. Everyone wants to know what he’s about to say, play or do next. This is evident from cuts such ‘Frito Lay, Sweetheart’, which rings around the venue with a dark energy that sets up the record as a moody slice of lo-fi indie folk. I find as the record continues however, the brighter and bouncier it gets. “Memory Of Love” and “Bloody Rainbow” are very bright and catchy despite the titles suggesting something darker or grotesque. No matter what the vibe, the attending humans that night in 2000 are right on board from start to finish.

The Beatles covers in particular garnered a very warm reception. ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ is one of my favourite Beatles songs, easily top 10. Hearing Daniel play this also genuinely made me smile from ear to arse crack.

It may be easy to consider this enthusiasm somewhat patronising but I genuinely believe everyone at that venue wants to be there and wants to support a wonderful songwriting brain. There is certainly a real warmth to this live record. Like his albums ‘1990’ and ‘Yip/Jump Music’, this record is a great representation of his art rock, lo-fi existence. A blanket of comfort on cold, damp nights. On sunny days, his music acts as sun cream and shades.

If you’re a fan of the alternative to the alternative, the real and the brave – sounds like an aftershave advert – this live record may be right up your alley. His renditions here on ‘Alive in New York City’ are healthy additions to an already fantastic back catalogue.

It’s a real shame of course there won’t be “new” Daniel Johnston material but hopefully through the continued work of Mark Kramer and everyone at Shimmy-Disc, more live recordings and possibly demos can be released to the public very soon.

Daniel Johnston: Alive in New York – Out 19th January 2024 (Shimmy-Disc)

JOHNSTON – “SILLY LOVE” (Official Shimmy-Disc Video) (

Liverpool born music writer with passion for punk and Everton FC