Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Mountain Goats (Live at the Empty Bottle)

And then John Darnielle does that thing where he smiles, and it's just, like, love, kittens.

It's love and it's beauty and it's an invitation to acknowledge that the world is a more interesting and varied place to live than most of us give it credit for being on a day to day basis. He's some kind of pied piper, leading us deeper into our own hearts and into a greater respect for our own humanity. He's a truly gifted musician and performer, and it's always a treat to see him live.

I've seen Andrew Bird silence a room with the enormity of his talent, and I've seen Ben Folds acknowledge an audience's attachment to certain songs by inviting everyone to lift their voices to the rafters in a multi-part harmony singalong, and I've seen Mike Skinner get a crowd jumping in unison with just a word or two, but John Darnielle did all three of those things yesterday in the same club on the same night. It was utterly masterful crowd control. Time felt suspended as he whispered his way through a stunning version of "Wild Sage"--just his painfully, plaintively hushed voice, one or two delicately plucked guitar strings hanging, reverberating, like unkept promises, and Peter Hughes's gorgeous, melodic bass rolling along underneath everything like a dusty old dirt road cutting through an impossibly green cornfield in Indiana in late August--and the room got so quiet even the bottles behind the bar stopped clanking. A few songs later, before I realized what was happening, I was shouting as loud as I could manage as he welcomed us to sing along with "This Year" (deadpan: "like you mean it") and then a few songs after that, an electric jolt surged through the crowd as the opening strums of "Southwood Plantation Road" got everyone wiggling and bouncing. And that's not even to mention his enchanting between-song banter, where he heckles back at the big mouths with as much wit and vigor as Eddie Izzard and introduces the fuckups who populate his songs with character sketches that have as much depth and color as the actual lyrics. And, his spontaneous monologue about why it won't be his fault when you forget to have a television mounted on your ceiling and then you find yourself singing "No Children" instead as you lie, bored and depressed and alone, on your living room floor could conceivably be passed off as the best excerpt from a script that Aaron Sorkin never wrote if the voice and diction and sensibility weren't so unmistakably Darniellian.

If I have any complaints about the show at all (aside from--sigh--the inevitable loud-talking, disrespectful douchebags and rude, tall girls shoving their way right into my sight line two minutes before the band took the stage) it's that, as a relative newcomer to the Goats' oeuvre, I should have recognized fewer of the songs. He repeated several from this summer's Pitchfork Music Festival setlist and, though of course he's touring in support of Get Lonely, he seemed to go heavy on material from his other more recent studio releases like The Sunset Tree and Tallahassee. They were definitely all crowd pleasers, but I have to wonder if any of the longtime die-hards in the audience felt like he didn't do enough justice to his lo-fi days. But, meh, it's not my job to keep tabs on the die-hards' satisfaction levels; I had an amazing time, and, just, wow. I'm so happy to have his music in my life and feel so lucky to have ample opportunity to see John and Peter play live.

And, as if there weren't enough musical riches in the air last night, I loved every note that opener Christine Fellows played. John has been very vocal in his support of her, both at Last Plane to Jakarta and, well, when he announced from the stage at the end of the night, "the Christine Fellows album is at the merch table and it will change your life." I didn't have enough cash on me last night to pick it up, but will be eager to do so soon. In the meantime, the song "Vertebrae," which he says is "the song of the year by a country mile, and also by a city mile, and by a nautical mile, too" is available for streaming at her MySpace.

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