I thought tonight would be a good time to put up my review of last week’s Mountain Goats for a couple reasons. One, it’s been a week almost. Due to some unforeseen issues I decided I couldn’t write it immediately, so it got put on the backburner. Second, I noticed last night that Miles from Chaperone completely steals the line “I am gonna make it, through this year, if it kills me” in his song “Raised By Wolves.” I hadn’t noticed previously, but last night it hit me like a ton of bricks. When he sang that line, I wanted to laugh out loud. He was at the show on Tuesday as well, and I can’t think of a better songwriter to crib from than John Darnielle.
I was stuck in a bit of a pickle on the night of the show. Kari was sick, so she couldn’t go, and I had about an hour to find a replacement. After calling my two friends in Chicago that I would consider going to a show with and getting a “negative” from both, I was back to square one. Luckily, I’ve had the opportunity to strike up acquaintance with a few people in this city that I know love a good show. One of those people is Gabe Liebowitz of the band Dastardly. I texted him the invite, and he was hesitant at first. After a few moments pause he responded with, “Aw fuck it. I’m in.” Thank god.
So we got to The Vic a little late, and Megafun was about halfway through their set. I was unimpressed, but the crowd seemed to be into it. The band reminded me of an older, more granola version of Fleet Foxes. They’re also a bit more vanilla than Fleet Foxes, which is a surprise because I didn’t think something more vanilla than Fleet Foxes would be visible.
Their set ended after a bit, and Gabe and I moved up a few rows for the main event. During this time we conversed about the business end of being in a band, Jared Bartman, and the fact that Gabe had somehow never been to a show at The Vic.
The Mountain Goats took the stage after a while, and I was blown away. I’d never seen a show by them, even though I’ve been in close proximity to one numerous times. I’ve been following the band since the first time I heard The Sunset Tree back in ’04 or ’05, and I’ve considered Mr. Darnielle among the very best songwriters pretty much since the first time I heard it all the way through.
What surprised me about the stage show was how powerful John’s voice is live. He has that kind of nasally, droning voice that works well with his style of music, but puts off people unfamiliar with him. On stage he’s constantly projecting way out past the cheap seats, and it almost sounds better than the recorded version. He also far exceeded my expectations for audience banter. He was funny and just enough of an asshole for me to like him.
The band played a good mix of old and new. I’ve really enjoyed the most recent record, All Eternals Deck. A lot of it is more rock-based than some of the other albums of the past five years or so. Songs’s like “Estate Sale Sign” evoke the memory of songs like “Lion’s Teeth” or “Lovecraft in Brooklyn,” while never quite hitting the high mark that those songs set. In a live setting, though, the new stuff sounds great.
The highlights of the show for me, personally, were many. The biggest, of course, was “This Year.” I tried to get a recording of the song, but the melonheads in front of me were just too vast for my camera to circumnavigate. Instead Gabe and I rocked out to the song that is probably both of our favorites in the Mountain Goats catalog. The crowd was screaming and jumping and singing to each other and it was wonderful. The next high point for me was the final song of the evening, “No Children.”
It was already odd enough of a situation due to the fact that there was a curfew invoked at the start of the show. The Mountain Goats played two separate encores, but they never left the stage for more than a couple minutes. What was even more odd, though, was how the show ended. If you know the song, you know what I’m talking about. If not, let me give you an example of the lyrics:
I am drowning
there is no sign of land
your are coming down with me
Hand in unloveable hand
and I hope you die
I hope we both die
Not the most uplifting lyrics, right? BUT, imagine those last two lines sung over and over and over by the entire crowd at a place like The Vic. It’s a beautiful, ornate, old building that has housed some of the greatest shows in Chicago’s history, including a 4-night stand by Wilco in which they played damn near every song they’ve recorded. And on this night, John Darnielle was leading the 1,500 people in attendance in one of the saddest most macabre sing-a-longs imaginable.
Much like most of the Mountain Goats music it was sad and beautiful and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
If you’d like to check out my review of the Mountain Goats newest album All Eternals Deck, you can find it here.