The Mountain Goats at Culture Room
Though John Darnielle’s eponymous folk act The Mountain Goats have been touring, in one fashion or another, for almost a quarter of a century, they have never made it farther south than Orlando until this Monday when, joined by longtime collaborator and partner, bassist Peter Hughes, Darnielle took his guitar, a keyboard, his voice and his songs to the stage at The Culture Room in Ft. Lauderdale for a set that lasted roughly 80 minutes and included fan favorites such as “No Children,” “Alpha Rat’s Nest” and “Tallahassee” from the 2002 album Tallahassee, “Love Love Love,” “Wild Sage” and “Dance Music” off of the stripped down and critically lauded 2005 sleeper Get Lonely, as well as some lesser-known tracks like “Song For Mark and David” off of 1994’s Beautiful Rat Sunset and “It Froze Me” off of the 1996 record, Nothing For Juice.
Honestly, when I first heard the band a few years ago, it did practically nothing for me, but I was hasty in dismissing them. The burnt CDs of The Sunset Tree (which autobiographically chronicles Darnielle’s antagonistic and abusive relationship with his stepfather) and Get Lonely (a scary-accurate assessment of the feelings one experiences during the withdrawal of a broken relationship) my friend Chris Losa gave me had been collecting dust up until about three months ago. I was feeling low. I was moping about. I needed new music. I decided to give it another whirl in my car’s CD player.
And holy shit, this was some deep stuff. How did I dismiss it so easily? The early comparisons I’d made to Canadian emoters The Weakerthans and Brooklyn bar poets The Hold Steady still seemed somewhat suiting, however the stretching sappiness I’d so much associated with John K. Sampson and the sometimes gooberish overindulgence in subject matter that was synonymous with Craig Finn’s lyricism and delivery were perfectly married in a highly productive, exuberant and forlorn minstrel prone to fits of glorious and triumphant rage and I’d be damned if I let the opportunity to see him live escape me.
The Mountain Goats started back in 1991 when Darnielle, while working as a nurse, decided he wanted to put some of his poetry to music and, having bought a shitty guitar and a serviceable boom box through which he could record, began doing so at a rate that sometimes saw him release multiple albums in the same year on more than one occasion. He toured endlessly, collecting fans and notoriety along the way. It’s hard to say if there ever was indeed a “breakthrough album.” It’s much more likely that it was all the culmination of years and years of doing the same thing, getting ridiculously good at it and not turning into an egotistical monster along the way. If that’s the criteria, then he did perfectly.
This last Monday was everything a fan could hope for. Once they took the stage, The Mountain Goats played a nonstop, nearly hour and a half long set which saw Darnielle alternate between guitar and keyboard and from up-tempo folk songs to pared down musical balladry. The crowd was rapt, respectful, encouraging and participant. They’d waited forever, and tonight was the night.
Darnielle respectfully thanked his opening act, The Baptist Generals (who were touring to promote their new album, Jackleg Devotional to the Heart, off of Sub Pop), and put the crowd at ease with some humor before diving into the set, opening with “Pure Gold” off of 2002’s Ghana. Eight or so songs in, he switched over to the keyboard, where he played perfectly and Hughes accompanied him expertly, keeping everything in tow. Every song was introduced with an anecdote or explanation, and some highlights of the brief interludes involved anecdotes about how he once wrote a fan letter to the WWE’s Vince McMahon and about his love for death metal pioneers Morbid Angel. His guitar work, renown for being rhythmically gorgeous, wavering between brutal hardcore precision and loose, swaying strum prose, was true on delivery. He held the room in his hand like the greatest music/English to have never been given a proper classroom.
Following the set and after a brief breather backstage, Darnielle and Hughes went out into the courtyard to meet the crowd, Hughes out among the masses and Darnielle behind the merch booth, signing anything anyone put in front of him and taking the time to give attention to each and every person patiently waiting in line to see him.
That, my friends, is how you make and maintain a fan base – It’s that human element so present in every song, in every line of lyric, and it’s gratifying to see that it all was indeed genuine and earnest.
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