John Darnielle is one of those performers who my husband would put in a category with singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan. This is sort of a backhanded compliment, though, as if you ask him to tell you what he thinks about Dylan, he’ll say that the man’s an amazing lyricist but a terrible singer. This, for the record, is why I rarely drag him to most of the concerts that I attend, since a lot of the music I like falls into that category for him. (There’s a hilarious side story in here about how I took him to an Andrew Bird show once and I spent most of the train ride home gushing about how great it was, and his response was “…I didn’t get it.”)
But he has a point. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you are most in to, Darnielle’s voice will never escape being called… quirky. Interesting. Different. It took me a long while to really get in to the music of The Mountain Goats, to let my musical tastes mature in order for me to be able to get past the fact that Darnielle’s voice just isn’t something that’s ever going to be mainstream. (The list of albums I hated on first listen but adore now is appallingly long, actually. Three cheers for growing up.) But once I did that, I discovered a whole rich world of intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics that just don’t happen in mainstream music.
While the songs may often be serious (“Here’s a song that has two suicides,” Darnielle said at one point), one thing that is readily apparent from the moment that Darnielle takes the stage with the rest of the band is that this is a man who loves what he does. It always makes me happy to see a performer up there on the stage with a huge smile, obviously enjoying every moment of the show. With Darnielle’s personality being every bit as unique as his voice, the band enthusiastically made its way through an eclectic setlist, covering a wide variety of material. Despite the fact that the tour is in support of the new album (The Life of the World to Come), the setlist didn’t shy away from older material, which delighted the audience.
One highlight of the night occurred when Owen Pallett of Final Fantasy came out to join The Mountain Goats, both with Darnielle playing solo and with the full band. While “Going to Bristol” isn’t exactly a cheerful song, it sure wound up lookingfun, with Pallett on violin and Darnielle gleefully going back behind the piano to spontaneously plunk out a few notes. And for something I haven’t seen in a long while, the band came out for two encores, the first beginning with “No Children”, which turned into a gigantic audience sing-along, with Darnielle and company stepping back from the microphones and letting the fans take the lead. There’s something a little surreal about standing in the midst of a group of people all happily shouting out “I hope you die, I hope we both die“.
Final Fantasy proved to be an excellent opening act, keeping the surprisingly appreciative audience captivated for the 40 minutes of his set. I heard that he had a rough time of it at Pitchfork, and the people I was with were hoping that his set would go over a little better at Metro, which it most certainly did. He played a number of songs from his upcoming third album, and humorously warned the audience that if we didn’t behave, he’d simply play all of the Mountain Goats songs during his opening set, so that the band had nothing to play for their set. The setlist included “Many Lives”, which features Pallett shouting “Son you must invest!” into his violin’s mic, and ended with the epic “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt,” which he performed earlier this year during a torrential downpour at an outdoors festival in a performance that has to be seen to be truly appreciated.
For a more thorough review and some fantastic photos, check out the review at Soundcheck Magazine. And though unrelated to the show, go read the awesome Q&A from Paste Magazinewhere Darnielle talks about the new album, religion, songwriting, and feminism, which basically puts him on my list of “coolest people ever”.
Setlist behind the jump, thanks to someone over at last.fm for posting.
1 Samuel 15:23
Letter From Belgium
How to Embrace a Swamp Creature
(john switches to solo keyboards)
Evening in Stalingrad
Genesis 30:3 (with Owen Pallet of Final Fantasy)
Going to Bristol (with Owen Pallet)
(band returns to stage)
Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace
Lovecraft in Brooklyn
Going to Georgia