The Mountain Goats Perform a Soundtrack Live at the Castro Theatre
|The Mountain Goats at the Castro Theatre last night. Pics by Chris.|
December 14, 2010
Better than: Fumbling with the bong, trying to synch up Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz.
If not, here's the punchline: It's some obscure number, you probably haven't heard of it. And so it goes for indie folk rock, too, with its Anne Frank references, tales of Dickensian chimney sweeps, and concept albums about schizophrenic sign painters. What welds these acoustic guitar-wielding yarn-spinners together is a steadfast belief that there are no boundaries for inspiration. Nevermind the Bible; compelling stories are all around us, bounded but alive in books and art and film.
With that same spirit and belief in literary swordplay, cult folk heroes The Mountain Goats -- a nominally one-man-project spearheaded by John Darnielle -- performed live a newly commissioned score for the 1919 Swedish silent film Sir Arne's Treasure last night at the Castro Theatre. If there were ever a test of the kind of esteem in which San Francisco holds The Mountain Goats, this was it. The 1,400-seat theater was full and abuzz, hopeful that Swedish film has always been as good as it has recently (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Let the Right One In, etc.). In Darnielle we trust, apparently.
Anytime you pair the audio with the visual, the brain aches to connect the dots of rhythm and vision (see this), but seldom did Darnielle aim for the obvious synch. The first half of the film was met with trademark Mountain Goats minimalism, spare and somber notes echoing off an acoustic guitar and piano, Darnielle's signature nasally vocals ebbing and flowing.
There was an especially palpable disconnect between what we saw onscreen and heard from the speakers during the film's more light-hearted moments, which were surprisingly plentiful. But The Mountain Goats were fully capable of capturing the film's themes of loss, isolation, and betrayal, and Darnielle's weeping guitar work made an appropriate backdrop to the rural Swedish landscape of the 16th century.
Vanderslice's electric-guitar play over the next half hour was mostly svelte but technically wondrous when given the auditory space, artfully erratic in the same way Sufjan Stevens seizures to solo.
Perhaps that's why Darnielle admitted after the show that he'd never been as nervous for any show as he was for this one, "sweating bullets for two months," as he put it. Maybe he knew something was off.
Critic's notebook: Live music and film don't get paired together nearly enough, and just the mere attempt to tackle this was project was ambitious and rewarding in itself. Darnielle and Vanderslice had potent chemistry onstage, and Darnielle seemed to enjoy himself considerably more in the presence of company and during the jamming moments of the night. Can they just form a band already?