Tuesday, April 05, 2011
John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats: photo by Michael Ligon
Update [April 8, 12:18 am]: Review now up.
The Mountain Goats of Claremont, California are a band I've been meaning to see live for some time. I'd discovered the band back in the mid to late nineties when I was big in to zines and mail-order indie releases and had ordered one of The Mountain Goats' earliest releases, their cassette only album "The Hound Chronicles". I say 'their' when actually back then it was only John Darnielle alone recording under The Mountain Goats moniker. Underneath its truly lo-fi recording aesthetics, I could hear the songwriting talent of Darnielle. I'd lost track of the band after that, all the while The Mountain Goats recording for a variety of indie labels until they made the big jump to 4AD in 2003. However, it wasn't until about five years ago that the band crept back in to my consciousness, and so I started picking up many of their releases, both pre-4AD and 4AD, casually listening to them but never fully grasping their greatness. It was the live show that I heard and read was the thing that could convert me, and with the Goats playing shows in Toronto at Lee's Palace both in 2006 and 2007, I had a few opportunities to see them but ended up bailing on / missing both. It's now 2011, and it was time to remedy that.
Despite the wickedly wet weather or maybe because of it, The Opera House was already near capacity when I arrived a little in to the set of Durham, North Carolina openers Megafaun. An amiable trio of fellas, brothers Brad and Phil Cook and fellow Eau Claire, Wisconsin native Joe Westerlund, their vocal harmony-laden, folk-rock singalongs, augmented with guitar, drums, and banjo at times, held the crowd's attention for he entirety of their set. This was no better illustrated than with the spare acoustic traditional-soundingn "Lord, Ease My Mind" which had the band simply singing and strumming acoustic guitar and guided along by simple handclaps which the crowd eventually joined in on.
From reviews I've read, The Mountain Goats last visit to Toronto in 2007 was as a duo consist of Darnielle and bassist Peter Pughes but for this most recent visit at The Opera House the band was no actually a band rounded out with drummer Jon Wurster (of Superchunk), and keyboardist Yuval Semo. The band was in town to promote the newest Mountain Goats album entiled All Eternal's Deck. Walking onto the stage with soundbites of "Hello, America" and heavy metal music playing through the speakers, the crowd was enraptured as if Darnielle was Elvis. The four members, dressed smartly in dark suits, the band wasted no time and lept into cleverly-titled new album track "Liza Forever Minnelli".
My unfamiliarity not only The Mountain Goats' newest album but with the catalogue in general made piecing together the set list difficult, but there I tried, jotting down lyrics and song-title guesses on my iPhone in between songs. Even post-show, trying to piece together the setlist by looking at the setlists from some of recent shows turned out to be unreliable as it soon became apparent that Darnielle was not content on playing the same setlist every night. Googling the lyrics I'd jotted down, my sleuthing revealed that while The Mountain Goats played at least a few songs off the new album, including "Liza Forever Minelli" and "For Charles Bronson", and playing fan favourites including "No Children" and "Southwood Plantation Road" from Talahassee and a variety of songs spanning other albums, it was 1995 album The Sunset Tree which seemed quite prominent, with the band playing at least six songs off that album.
In fact, it was The Sunset Tree songs which were the crowd faves and provided most of the show's most memorable moments. The crowd shouted out requests throughout the night and The Sunset Tree's "No Children" was called out multiple times and so the crowd was enamored when the band finally played it. The song "Broom People" was preceded by Darnielle's recounting of a girl name Marci(three years older than him) he dated when he was in high school who he tried to break up with by letter after meeting another girl. An audience member supportively yelled out "Marci Sucks" but Darnielle came back in her defense and said something like "Fuck You" and expressed that given his douche-bag action he thought he at least owed her a song. When the band finally ended the first encore with "This Year" joined onstage with openers Megafaun and the combined membership chanting the chorus "I am going to make it through this year if it kills me", I had a lump in my throat.
Darnielle falls in line with some of the best musical artist / storytellers / banterers I've experienced like Neko Case and Stephen Merritt, although Darnielle's quips and storytelling felt quite more spontaneous in my opinion. When Darnielle solo performed the opening four chords of new song "You Were Cool", a few audience members yelled out "woo", though Darnielle retorted that they wouldn't necessarily know what song he was playing. Ironically that songs lyrics started out "this is a song with the same four chords I use most of the time, when I've got something on my mind" a truly hilarous, self-deprecating comment if I ever heard one. In response to a random question from audience about why he wasn't wearing shoes, he asked the audience if they wanted to know the story then lept in to it anyway, mentioning it was practice by musical artist Amy Grant who did the same thing to be more comfortable on stage. When Darnielle and band came back from the end of the main set for an encore, Darnielle quipped about doing a Grateful Dead-like lengthy second set but then instead, and more realistically offered a six-song encore set as consolation. For a surprise 2nd encore, Darnielle returned to peform a cover of Franklin Bruno's "Houseguest". I've not much to add except to say that it was a spectacular evening and am looking forward to see Darnielle and company in the future.
Chromewaves and The Panic Manual both have reviews of the show. Mechanical Forest Sound has an MP3 live recording of "No Children" from the show.
Photos: The Mountain Goats, Megafaun @ The Opera House, Toronto (April 3, 2011)
MySpace: The Mountain Goats