A few weeks ago I got a chance to see the Mountain Goats in concert. Let me tell you to do this thing if you get the chance. The Mt Goats is sort of one guy, John Darnielle, and the people he gets to help him make narrative, terrifically-structured indie music; I’ve yapped about their stuff here and here among other places. I super love them but am wary of live music for whatever dumb reason, so when I finally saw them at Calvin College, I was totally blown away. Darnielle was losing his voice but he still worked super hard to make us happy–he did Spent Gladiator 2 in this a cappella whisper, stalking all around the audience.
Last month in Virginia was if anything better. My super strong impression of Darnielle is that he is a really giving performer, who wants to make sure you have a good time. He talks a lot to the audience: tells stories, gives us neat weird cover songs, etc. This time (unlike when he played an actual Christian arts festival!) he talked a lot about Jesus, which was v. awkward for the crowd but great for me. (You can read an recent interview he did w/Christianity Today here.) At this point, too, the Mt Goats have such a huge back catalog that in the two shows I’ve seen he did an almost completely different array of songs.
In Virginia there were many more songs from The Sunset Tree–songs about his experience of abuse growing up, & the crowd sang along, you could tell how deeply they had needed these songs–and some stuff from We Shall All Be Healed, my favorite album of his, you won’t be shocked to hear that it’s the one about addiction. But also great stuff from his new joint about pro-wrestling, including an audience singalong on “Foreign Object”! (“I personally will stab you in the eye/With a foreign object!/Foreign object, foreign object, foreign object.”) He loves to tell you about artists you may not have heard already; he loves to share things with you; he seemed, that night, to be constantly talking about Jesus without having intended to do that, just unable to really hold it back. The rippling, unshackled piano lines in “Lion’s Tooth” I hope I won’t forget.
The opening act was a woman named Tristen, who sings it seems mostly about how terrifying it would be to date her. I loved it! Again I admit I had fun observing the crowd: Tristen introduces one song with, “This is a song about being the other woman,” and there’s a frosty American silence until one woman gives a lone whoop of misguided solidarity. And Tristen laughed at that–she was in general a ton of fun to watch, playful and self-aware.
I bought two of her CDs, which you can grab here. Her style is glamorous and damaged; she was more fun in concert, less polished, yowlier, but even on CD I loved her “doomed evil queen” persona. “Catalyst” is just a terrifically ’80s shard of glass, reminiscent of the Eurythmics and Pat Benatar and lots of other great things. Both CDs have some gems but I think I’d recommend Caves first. Mostly I’d recommend seeing her live if you can. She was bad fun, the only kind of fun there is.