Last Night: The Mountain Goats Solo at the Swedish American Hall

mountain goats.jpg

The Mountain Goats Solo
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Swedish American Hall at Cafe Du Nord
Review By Melissa Baron


Better Than: Going to a crowded, dancey, pushy Noise Pop show. Or listening to your Mountain Goats records at home.

From recordings alone, one could probably imagine what a typical  Mountain Goats concert looks like, especially one featuring front man John Darnielle solo. His voice usually fluctuates between soft, delicate whispers and strained belting. As he sings his face and body will change. First he'll smile serenely and nod his head slightly, then he'll tense up, building up to an epic release. Between songs he'll chat candidly with the audience, infinitely more sociable and funny than one  imagines from his songs.

It's difficult to capture the essence of the recorded Mountain Goats in a stage performance. There's something intimate and tender about each song. Listening to his records exposes a secret sadness, yet cultivates happiness. In live setting, Darnielle gives his material new life as he hops, dances, and stomps around to his songs, or croons into the microphone. His crowd is typically equally animated. They're often a a vocal bunch, thinking they're singing to themselves, but really they'll sing so loud everyone around them can hear.

Last Night's Noise Pop show was a very different performance. First of all, the Swedish American Hall felt more like a church, VFW Hall, or high school auditorium than venues Darnielle has played in the past. The room had a small, low stage surrounded by wooden chairs and space up front to sit on the floor.

Darnielle showed a different side of his performance here, sitting on a stool, sans band, and playing many of his older songs. For long time fans of the Mountain Goats, the variety of  material he played --in a room with perfect acoustics--was a treat. The set list was organized alphabetically, starting off with "Alphabetizing," "Billy the Kid's Dream of the Magic Shoes," and "Cobscook Bay."

Darnielle's anecdotes and casual banter were as endearing as his songs. Before playing "The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton," he reminded listeners of the importance of optimism. He also explained that the show was a benefit organized by his 6th grade crush, and spent a few minutes discussing the importance of Endabuse, the family violence protection fund that would be benefiting from his ticket sales that evening. He recalled seeing his stepfather beat his mother, the inspiration behind "Dance Music," and praised the work of organizations to stop domestic abuse.

Overall, the show highlighted the personal stories and musical gems of a breathtakingly talented lyricist, instrumentalist, and performer. John Darnielle is the most charming man alive.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: I am completely smitten with John Darnielle.

Random detail: As part of the benefit John Vanderslice was serving wine.

By the way: You can find Endabuse online to learn more about them. You can also donate online.
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