Words / Photos: Alex Wood
John Darnielle has released music as The Mountain Goats since 1991, developing his unique brand of songwriting, and with it, a devout fan base. Mountain Goats fans see Darnielle as more than simply the author of the songs they love, the songwriter’s amiable stage persona and endlessly prolific output sets him up as a legendary figure, one that fans follow like a religion, hanging onto every last word during and between songs.
Darnielle knows all of this, and few artists are as in touch with their fans as he is. Walking onto the stage of the 450-capacity Old Town School Of Folk Music Concert Hall, Darnielle immediately addressed the audience, saying that he assumed anyone with tickets to the quickly-sold-out, undersized Chicago venue would be alright with his playing lesser-known Mountain Goats songs.
With the exception of three or four concert staples, Darnielle performed a set of rare tracks reaching as far back as 1992.
Darnielle appeared especially comfortable at the intimate concert, opening with the short, beautiful Sunset Tree b-side “Collapsing Stars” before discussing the storyline of “Bride,” a track written about the climactic point of “Bride Of Frankenstein” where the bride screams upon seeing the monster she is to marry, leading to her electrocution.
“Designed for one another, we lie tied to our slabs while the same electricity that gave us life crackles through the lab,” he sings, eventually concluding, “we belong dead.”
Darnielle’s straightforward and humorous explanations of the songs throughout the night not only increased the intimacy of the concert, but also reminded the audience of the writer’s strange genius.
The last verse of “Dance Music” was described as being caught by the police using “hard drugs with needles” in a car at age 17, the heavy, personal details relayed with quirky humor that displayed zero regret on the singer’s behalf.
The show also allowed fans to see Darnielle play a gorgeous grand piano, the singer clearly choosing the songs to perform as he went, inevitably leading to dozens of recommendations from audience members.
“Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is In Another Castle” was predictably given a long explanation, Darnielle setting up Mario as a hardworking plumber with no option but to try to save the love of his life, constantly facing emotional defeat while moving from castle to castle.
“There are no police in the Koopa Kingdom,” Darnielle joked.
While older songs like “Alphabetizing,” “Berries For You,” and “The Recognition Scene” stood out as treats for longtime fans, Darnielle’s performance of “Song For Black Sabbath’s Second North American Tour” was equally rare, having only been performed a handful of times to date.
Darnielle discussed his prolificacy before the unreleased “From TG&Y,” concluding that “I don’t leave songs lying around, it’s untidy.”
The set ended with a sing-along version of “No Children,” Darnielle pacing the stage and screaming the words to the audience, nearly everybody in the venue joining in on the bitter lyrics.
The encore featured the rarely performed “Commandante” and “Fresh Berries For You,” followed by Grateful Dead’s “Ripple,” which began occasionally finding its way into set lists roughly two years ago. Darnielle teased “St. Stephen” with a laugh before breaking into another Mountain Goats standard, “Up The Wolves.”
Known for multiple encores, Darnielle returned to the piano for another song, announcing it as one that he sings with his young son. What followed was referred to as “The Pig Song,” a goofy thirty-second children’s ditty about a pig in the sun. Darnielle walked off stage laughing, hardly turning around to acknowledge the standing ovation.
With hundreds of songs to cycle through, Darnielle chose to travel the back roads of The Mountain Goats’ discography for the intimate acoustic set, creating an unforgettable experience for his dedicated followers.
[box type="download"]Download Entire Set (mp3 .zip - via Kyle Barbour, archive.org)[/box]
1.) Collapsing Stars
3.) Island Garden Song
6.) Isaiah 45:23
7.) From TG&Y
8.) Woke Up New
9.) Dance Music
10.) Liza Forever Minnelli
11.) Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is In Another Castle
12.) Brisbane Hotel Sutra
13.) Song For Black Sabbath’s Second North American Tour
14.) Hast Thou Considered The Tetrapod?
16.) The Recognition Scene
17.) No Children
19.) Fresh Berries For You
21.) Up The Wolves
22.) The Pig Song