John Darnielle of indie/folk masters the Mountain Goats seems to have a fondness for Philadelphia. He writes for metal mag Decibel, which is printed in Philly. Goats drummer Jon Wurster is from the area. He commands a fanatic cult, but isn’t afraid to play smaller venues like the North Star Bar or local college campuses. And when he does falter live, as any human is bound to eventually do, he makes up for it tenfold. So, obviously, the guy was gonna put on a great show for fans when hit the TLA Sat., Nov. 28 with Final Fantasy. That’s pretty much a given. But the exact way he would do it -- mixing crowd-pleasers and deep cuts, playing some songs astonishingly softly for such a medium-sized venue while also going louder than he ever has before -- could never be predicted.
See, the Goats have a lot of songs. Fansite Themountaingoats.net counts 525. The band has such a wealth of tunes that Darnielle is able to pull out obscure songs whenever he wants, much to superfans’ delight. That alone ensures that most Goats shows are unique. Throw in the band’s tendency to perform songs with their tourmates, as well the Goats’ recent swelling to a four-piece with the addition of guitarist Perry Wright (the Prayers & Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers; check out The Mother of Love Emulates the Shapes of Cynthia sometime), and the uniqueness of each performance is that much more assured. Nov. 28 was no exception.
The night began with Final Fantasy, a.k.a. violinist/vocalist Owen Pallett. Accompanied by a guitarist/percussionist, Pallett crafted polyphonic wonders using his violin, a keyboard and enough loop pedals to fight whatever apocalyptic future awaits us. Calling his music orchestral pop doesn't sound quite right since (A) we’re talking about a one-man orchestra, (B) Pallett’s tunes have a lot of dance and pop elements, and (C) dude is too funny to be pigeonholed. The guy’s classical background shows -- he’s clearly talented -- but he didn’t come off as pompous while discussing his music at all. Ditto for when he called out some obnoxious, talkative non-listeners, wryly saying, “Were you guys talking this whole time? I didn’t notice because I was so into the music.” Overall, Pallett put on an entertaining show. I anticipate his upcoming 2010 record, Heartland.
By Pallett’s own admission, opening for the Mountain Goats is intimidating given his fervent fanbase (of which I consider myself a member). Pallett’s set wrapped up by 9:50 p.m., and by 10:10 I was losing my patience. I needed a Goats fix. When the houselights dimmed at 10:15, the crowd, and me, collectively lost its shit. The Goats hit the stage and tore into…
Wait, I don’t know this song. How do I not know this song? I just listened to 18 hours of TMG tunes. I should know this song. Think, think. This song is so awesome, with its boisterous arrangement. Wurster looks like he’s having such a great time. They’re singing about handball. How many Goats songs are about that?
That’s right, the Mountain Goats opened with “Hand Ball,” originally from the compilation Our Salvation Is in Hand, later compiled on the rarities collection Protein Source of the Future...Now!. They did it with a full band too, which shows how much Wurster has integrated into Darnielle and bassist Peter Hughes’ dynamic. Darnielle has always had a knack for loud acoustic ditties -- have you heard “Cubs in Five?” -- but Wurster and Wright pushed that aspect harder on songs like “Palmcorder Yajna,” “This Year” and “See America Right.” “Romans 10:9,” one of the poppier songs from new album Life of the World to Come, turned out surprisingly, wonderfully heavy. It was perhaps my favorite performance of the night. Of the five times I’ve seen the Mountain Goats, this was their most rocking set.
Of course, an ebb and flow can do plenty for a live show. The Goats added softer songs like “Deuteronomy 2:10” and Life outtake “Enoch 18:14,” after which Darnielle went solo for a bit, knocking out obscurities like a so-far-unreleased cover of the Chiffons’ “One Fine Day,” “From TG&Y” and “Song for Dana Plato,” all of which went over well with the crowd. After that, Darnielle went even deeper with “Going to Michigan” by the Extra Glenns, a band he was in with Nothing Painted Blue frontman Franklin Bruno. Pallett came out to play the guitar part from “Going to Bristol” on his violin, and it was good. Damn good. There was a bit of respect and nerd love between the two performers, as Pallett would come back for performances of “Hebrews 11:40,” “This Year” and “No Children.”
The rest of the band came out to wrap up the regular set, concluding with rabblerousers “See America Right” and “This Year.” “This Year” gets a little bit louder and faster every time I see it live, which, given that it’s one of the most beloved, best TMG songs, is always welcome.
After a two-song encore of “Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace,” which featured Hughes’ bass at its heaviest, and “No Children,” I felt ever so slightly disappointed. See, I interviewed Darnielle a little while ago via e-mail. He dodged a few of my questions, one of which was a show request for his cover of “Dirty Old Town,” as my girlfriend and I have a lot of memories attached to that song. Since Darnielle didn't outright shoot me down, I wondered, nay hoped, that maybe he really would play the song. He didn't. But then the band came out for a second encore and played a full band version of “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” which is, scientifically speaking, the greatest Mountain Goats song of all time. Some people might say “Going to Georgia” (which I’ve heard live, suckaz) or “Going to Maine,” but those people are wrong, and perhaps even insane. The show opened to strains of Dio and closed with raised fists and shouts of “Hail Satan!”. Decibel, and a lot of Philly’s Mountain Goats fans, would’ve been proud.
- Hand Ball
- Old College Try
- Palmcorder Yajna
- Romans 10:9
- Deuteronomy 2:10
- Enoch 18:14
- One Fine Day (Chiffons cover, went solo)
- From TG&Y
- Song for Dana Plato
- Going to Michigan (Extra Glenns cover)
- Going to Bristol (with Owen Pallett)
- Hebrews 11:40 (back to full band with OP)
- Psalms 40:2
- Song for Dennis Brown
- See America Right
- This Year (with OP)
- Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace
- No Children (with OP)
- The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton