the Mountain Goats + Water Liars @ The Gargoyle
You might ask yourself, now what does (fucking rad) poet Sherman Alexie have to do with the Mountain Goats? And if you were 20 years old and at The Gargoyle last night, you might also have asked yourself, “Who the fuck is Joan Didion??” I imagine the students know who Bill Gass is. Point being, four minutes after taking the stage, John Darnielle, the man who IS the Mountain Goats, name-dropped Bill Gass and Joan Didion to a crowd of impressionable fans, without sounding pretentious or pedantic. That’s how you spread intellectual curiosity; that’s how you combat willful ignorance and reality TV.
In the spirit of full disclosure, the Mountain Goats are my sixth favorite band of all time. The fact that I was able to attend the show at all hasn’t really sunk in yet, let alone that I got to watch him sing from the floor, while he held onto the impressive beard of a guy standing two people away from me. I am only writing this review for the boy who was standing directly behind me. It was that boy who kept me awake until 2 am last night. It was that boy who made me wake up at 7:30 this morning. This one’s for you, unknown fanboy. I know you didn’t get any sleep either.
I’ll assume you know that this is a university show, the closing event of KWUR Week, that only 75 paying members of the general public were allowed entrance, and that The Gargoyle is very wee. So, Bill Gass, Joan Didion, thank yous, a sound-checky version of “Wild Sage” and a pretty awkward introduction to “Damn These Vampires,” then John Darnielle, Peter Hughes (bass) and Jon Wurster (drums) started nibbling into a sampler of twenty years of material condensed into an hour and-a-half-long set. I was standing in my sweet spot, three and a half feet from center stage, confusing the people who tore in front of me to stand up against it. The boy directly behind me knew about the sweet spot, too, because he stayed exactly behind me the whole night. I know this because I felt his wistful sighs on the back of my neck every time something cool happened. I heard him every time he couldn’t stop himself from singing along, though he really tried. I could almost feel the outline of his neon grin projecting on the back of my head.
I have an electronic viewfinder on my camera. I purchased a camera like that so I could take pictures at shows without annoying the piss out of people behind me. I don’t look at what I shoot after I shoot it, I hold the camera up to my face and I shoot just like a real camera. Three songs in (I think) the Mountain Goats played a new song from their upcoming album, Transcendental Youth. And I was fiddling with my menu settings to try to do something with the infernal red stage lights the venue seems to insist upon, but I was holding the camera to my face for a long time and John Darnielle gave me the worst stink eye I’ve ever received in my life. I felt my socks melt a little, and not in a good way. The new song is really good, and I don’t have a recording of it, I swear.
After the new song, Peter and Jon left the stage and JD played solo. He sang “Dinu Lipatti’s Bones.” I remember this because when it was over, he looked out at us and he said something about Ozzy Osbourne not *really* loving his audience, but that right this minute he really did love us. Realizing he had to explain himself, he said that when he mentioned he was playing The Gargoyle, he got a TON of texts and tweets telling him how awful The Gargoyle was and how he was going to have a miserable time, which baffled him, since he’s a positive guy and the general resignation to misery really rubbed him the wrong way. He mentioned the disaster that was the last time he played St. Louis, at The Billiken Club, where students in pajamas stood in front of the stage and recounted dorm drama while everyone tried to listen around them. (He didn’t say that part, that’s from Travis Bursik, who was there.) But he looked out at us and said that “Dinu Lipatti’s Bones” is one of his quietest songs, and he didn’t hear a peep through the whole thing. The sound was good from where he stood, he was having a great time, and that The Gargoyle shall be vindicated!
The rest of the show was kind of a blur. JD gave into his good time, and he rewarded our model behavior with an intense, mind-shattering good show. He sang, “No Children” and “This Year” into the faces of guys in the front row while they sang back at him, he came down off the stage and held onto the beard of the dude three people away from me. He sang the non-album track “You Were Cool.” He apologized for giving me the stink eye earlier (he did!), and he walked right up to me, then past me, to the fresh-faced, wide eyed young man directly behind me, and he pressed his forehead against that young man’s forehead, placed his hand around the back of that young man’s neck, and he sang to him for a full minute. And any memorized set list I had in my head was annihilated.
They played another new song, there was an intermission in there somewhere, the band left the stage because JD needed to rest his steroid-addled voice (he’s been ill). But still they came back for two more songs.
My memory tells me one was a Black Flag cover, but I can’t seem to find evidence of what song it was, or whether he’s done it anywhere else, so he might have been joking. I’m bummed, because it was a great song and I’d like to listen to it again. First encore song was a cover of Nothing Painted Blue’s “Houseguest” [Thanks, Abby!], and the last song had two lines JD bit from a Smokey Robinson number, but I don’t remember what it was besides awesome. ["California Song" Thanks, Abby!] But fuck a bunch of keeping track of setlists. Me and the guy behind me have more important memories to hold onto.
John Darnielle is a simple musician. He is a poet who plays the guitar. He’s a story teller with a backing band. He creates and nurtures a superhuman bond between himself and the people he sings to. He’s also a mortal dude who has a baby and a cold and he forgot to thank the opening band and he was kind of rude to them backstage. Humans are fragile and finite, but the Mountain Goats’ songs might just live forever. Love, love, love.
Watching a completely-uninitiated audience absorb Water Liars for the first time was a TREAT. Crowd-buzz after their set was all surprised and impressed. I know we keep telling you, but buy Phantom Limb, people. It’s brilliant.
Full Setlist can be found at setlist.fm. Abby’s awesome!!
And don’t miss Jarred Gastreich’s beautiful pictures for KDHX.