(Photo by Mark Van S.)
The Mountain Goats
October 24, 2008
Better Than: The Conor Oberst show at the Warfield. By a long shot.
Review by Melissa Baron
The set change between opener Kaki King and the Mountain Goats seemed endless. Guitars and bass were tuned and microphones placed and set within minutes. Still, the crowd chattered anxiously awaiting the arrival of the band. It took longer than 20 minutes, maybe more. The venue turned off the background music and the audience began to cheer, only to have another song come on over the speakers. "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" by the Four Seasons played as the lights dimmed further. Out sauntered bassist Peter Hughes, sporting a dapper suit as usual. Finally, lead singer John Darnielle took the stage. He always looks deceptively patronly. This particular evening he wore a coat covered in patches, cuffed jeans, slide on brown loafers (which appeared to have lots of arch support) and a big smile.
It's always surprising to see Darnielle wearing a smile. There's a dichotomy between the man on stage and the man in these songs, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde almost. His songs vividly describe so much heartache, sadness, abuse and wrongdoing. He perfectly encapsulates the conflicts and problems associated with love. In his poetic phrasing he explains the perils of being young and reckless. All these tragedies come from a man with a friendly face, kind smile and endless enthusiasm.
Yet there he was on stage, crooning "We went to New York city in September/Took the train out of Manhattan to the grand army stop/Found that bench we'd sat together on a thousand years ago/When I felt such love for you I thought my heart was gonna pop/I wanted you to love me like you used to do/but I cannot run/and I can't hide/From the wreck we've made of our house/From the mess inside."
While he played, Darnielle became completely consumed by his music. His vocals became louder and more strained as the song built. With each line his mouth contorted and each word became visibly articulated. As he played guitar he staggered around the stage, sometimes hopping or jumping, leaning his whole body into the guitar, shaking his head and smiling. Sometimes he became so involved in playing that he didn't sing into the microphone, just yelled the words from the stage. Watching him play it was impossible to not feel emotionally compelled to sing along or at least tap, clap or dance. He drew people into each verse.
Beyond his excellent musical performance, he carried on awkwardly charming banter with the audience throughout the night. He gave a disclaimer about his new microphone for a moment after lamenting that no one would find the story interesting but he must tell it anyway. Apparently there are two kinds of microphones. One microphone allows the singer to stand a bit further from the microphone, allowing more range of eye contact with the audience. The second, which he has, requires the singer to keep their mouth close to the microphone to get the right sound. He said this meant he could only make eye contact with the people in the front, but if other audience members saw him making eye contact with a person in the front they should just touch that person to share in the experience. He also discussed the potential problems with becoming a well-known band. He said at one point he would never consider letting a television show use his work (he joked he'd never let "Going to Georgia" be on TV). However, once devoting his life to indie rock he realized the fiscal benefits that come from allowing a network to use your song. That said he claimed he wished he could have seen the use of the song ("International Small Arms Traffic Blues" off of Tallahassee) because it seems they must have read his diary and known just how his sex scene would work.
His setlist included "Have to Explode," "Heretic Pride," "The Best In Sight," "The Mess Inside," "Magpie," "Your Belgian Things," "Going to Bolivia," "Dinu Lipatti's Bones," "Sept 15, 1983," "Lovecraft in Brooklyn," "In the Craters of the Moon," "Pigs That Ran Straightaway Into The Water, Triumph Of," "Michael Myers Resplendent," "No Children" and "This Year." He also played a cover and several songs with Kaki King.
Personal Bias: I wish I would have heard less with King and more from just the Mountain Goats.
Random Detail: King claimed she used to play with the Blue Man Group?
By the Way: Darnielle and King have a split EP.