Ruth and I went to see The Mountain Goats at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on March 14th. The MFA theater was an appropriate venue, plain and understated. It’s mostly different shades of beige and off-white, with a bare wooden floor in front as the stage. There’s no adornment anywhere. The room isn’t flashy, and neither is The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle.
I went to the show not quite sure what I was going to see. I had a few early Mountain Goats albums, mostly collections of songs that were originally released using a variety of formats and record labels, making them difficult to find. I wasn’t sure if the music’s lo-fi, geeky character was an affectation or a true reflection of Darnielle’s personality.
That was cleared up pretty quickly. John (it seems unnecessary to be more formal) appeared to be just as quirky as his records. He doesn’t walk when he moves across the state. It’s more of a prance, as he carries himself with his weight forward on his toes while he bounces around. When he’s talking between songs, his voice comes out with an odd cadence. Every word is carefully selected and put out there tentatively, ready to be pulled back if it meets with disapproval.
But John is a lucky geek. He’s displayed his quirks in public, and he’s found an audience that appreciates them. You can see how happy he is to bask in that acceptance as he plays.
These links will bring you to videos recorded at the show, posted by the Boston Phoenix. They’re free, so don’t complain about the ads:
John played most of the show with a drummer and a bass player, though there was a solo section in the middle. His band mates are talented musicians who fill in spaces around John’s performance without changing the essence of The Mountain Goats music.
The day after the show, I went out and bought two more Mountain Goats albums, excellent examples of where John comes from and where he is now. “All Hail West Texas” was recorded using John’s original process, where it’s mostly John and his guitar singing and playing into a portable boombox. By the time this album was made, the boombox was on its last legs. The noises it adds to the music are readily audible, acting almost as an additional instrument.
“Heretic Pride” is the new album. The songs are conventionally recorded and produced. It’s a significant change, but the album is still recognizably a Mountain Goats album. It could be a reflection of John’s increased confidence as his audience has grown, or it could just be that he can afford to work in a decent studio now. Either way, I’m glad that John continues to put together his vibrant little pictures of life.