by carl wilson

Goats Move Mountains (Live)

bunnyj0hn.jpg
John Darnielle and friend.

Last night's Mountain Goats show was a bit more satisfying if not quite as energetic as their visit in May. The set list seemed more thoughtful, or perhaps it was me, no longer just so excited to be seeing tMG after all these years and so more able to notice details. With the absurd amount of competition in the clubs - from Son Volt, Feist and Wolf Parade - the crowd was smaller, so there was more intimacy between us and John Darnielle (and Peter Hughes, whose use of bass as a lead instrument to JD's rhythm guitar continues to amaze), but also between the devotees, who drew two encores from a visibly weary John. The crowd seemed to be familiar mainly with the 4AD material - I think I was the only one who shouted in approval when songs such as Tollund Man, Twin Human Highway Flares or even Color in Your Cheeks surfaced. The high point, however, came when he was joined on-stage by opening band The Prayers & Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers (Darnielle made pointed remarks about the band name - he'd have called it just The Prayers, he said, but the band's Christian humility is satisfied by having people mock and insult their name; I call them PaToADS for short). Lousy name or no, they rawked out, leading JD to do something I couldn't have imagined - he set down his guitar, took the mic in both hands and acted like he was actually the lead singer of a rock band. This happened in the song Against Pollution, which ends with a kind of apocalyptic vision, and John put one foot on the monitor, leaned out over the crowd, extended his arm and howled it out like a preacher. Indelible.

Of equal note, though, on more conventional tMG grounds: It occurred to me during a beautifully hushed rendition of Love Love Love (one of several songs he sang very very quietly last night, which was spine-tingling) that while there are many songs out there referring to Kurt Cobain's suicide, that's the only one I know that mentions him by name. It seems of a piece with Gus Van Sant's Last Days in marking the point at which Cobain's become a historic pop-cultural icon - a James Dean, albeit with a somewhat more complex significance; a reference point. Some critics found the Cobain verse awkward but I think they were actually just projecting their own self-consciousness; it's as fluid as the lines about King Saul or Sonny Liston. (I love the emphasis on his vulnerability and humanity in Darnielle calling him "young Kurt Cobain.") I think Darnielle was pointedly claiming the touchstone, saying that it's as valid as American Pie's reference to James Dean - that you don't have to be clever or sociological or allusive or territorial about it, you can just tell it straight-on. It's bolder than it first sounds, I think: Quietly setting its teeth to assert, "There's nothing cheap about this" - especially in the context of an album about Darnielle's own drug-addicted youth. (It would also be an apt song to sing at any Elliott Smith memorial concert, on this weekend's second anniversary of his death.)

Another small exquisite touch, almost unnoticeable, was in Color In Your Cheeks, a song (in my reading) about the treatment of refugees. The final verse normally goes, They came in by the dozens, walking or crawling/ Some were bright-eyed/ Some were dead on their feet/ And they came from Zimbabwe or from Soviet Georgia,/ East Saint Louis, or from Paris/ Or they lived across the street/ But they came, and when they'd finally made it here/ It was the least that we could do to make our welcome clear:/ Come on in... Without making a point of it or even leaning on the altered words, Darnielle has changed the Paris line to or New Orleans.

Chatting afterwards with the friend who came with me, who'd never seen tMG before. She was shocked at his energy and humour, expecting a more sombre person. That contrast is one of my favourite things about Darnielle. We spoke about sad songs sung in upbeat ways, as in klezmer or the blues. She made a comparison I'd never thought of before, between tMG and the Wedding Present - both Darnielle and David Gedge often singing dark stories (both strongly narrative and usually fairly realistic, excepting Darnielle's myth songs) in fast rock rhythms and major chords, using sophisticated language. Of course, Gedge is English and thus hangdog and sarcastic, and also much more concerned with playing with classic elements of songwriting form - with his rhymes and cadences and pop references. While Darnielle is American, and thus less guarded, but more literary and prosodic, trying to do things songs don't normally attempt but poems and novels do, which gives him a wider subject range, and his songs feature more epiphanies - and more violence.

I also thought: If you picture Darnielle as a skinny 17-year-old Californian with long stringy hair, wearing a band t-shirt and being the jumpy, bookish smartass in a small clique of goth/metal depressives, his personality doesn't seem so incongruous after all.

Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, October 18 at 6:40 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

COMMENTS

I have no trouble admitting my hip-hop knowledge is pretty shallow. That said, by "referring" I meant that the songs are actually *about* Cobain (like Patti Smith's About a Boy) rather than just dropping his name. Arguably that applies to the House of Pain song (which I just looked up), but not to Natural Born Killaz (which I knew).

It's pretty hard to name anything notable in pop culture that hasn't been dropped into a rap somewhere.

Posted by Zoilus on October 19, 2005 4:20 PM

 

 

There are loads of hip-hop songs that mention Cobain by name WRT his suicide--Ice Cube & Dr. Dre's "Natural Born Killaz" and House of Pain's "Legend" are two I remember off top of head, and there's more than that.

Posted by M Matos on October 19, 2005 2:18 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson