There’s a scene in Elf where Will Ferrell’s character, as naive and untainted by the world as he is, falls for Zooey Deschanel’s shopgirl character. He stretches out his arms wide and yells, “I’m in LOVE! And I don’t care who knows it!!“
As I stood four feet from John Darnielle and his rotating crew of Mountain Goats at a sold-out show at the Bluebird on Friday night, I found myself thinking the same thing, with almost that same embarrassingly unabashed fervor.
Darnielle is not hip. He is too vulnerable and transparent, too honest in his lyrics and unselfconscious in his delivery to be cool. Combine that with the potent gut-punch of the songs and you’ve got a memorable evening. Amidst exuberantly lame dance moves (me too John! Me too) he spat out lyrics of hope and despair, and rocked and tore through an amazing range of intelligent and gorgeous songs from his catalog. As Rob Sheffield wrote about Pavement in the awesome Love Is A Mix Tape, “The songs were all either fast or sad, because all songs should either be fast or sad. Some of the fast ones were sad, too.” For being as obviously intelligent and well-read as Darnielle is, he hasn’t forgotten how to rock, and rock loud.
In addition to new songs off Heretic Pride and the Satanic Messiah EP, they also played some rare back-catalog tunes (“Genesis 19:1-2“), and closed the main set with “This Year.” Those final moments with the whole crowd yelling along were among my cathartic concert highlights of this entire year. It was, for me, transcendent and very timely.
Darnielle has Wilco-like fans in their rabidity. Whenever I go to a show of an artist I’ve not seen live before, and the fans are like that, I pay extra close attention to the proceedings so I can investigate catching whatever fever led them to be foaming at the mouth in the first place. In between a crazy variety of song names being shouted as requests, the range of hardcore fans was noteworthy. I saw everyone from early high-schoolers (I think it was an all-ages show) singing along at the top of their innocent hearts, to burly biker dudes and everyone in-between.
I missed opener Kaki King because I was hauling heavy things onto moving trucks, but she came out and joined Darnielle for a good chunk of the set on her guitar, alternating between acoustic and electric and even playing some slide guitar down on the floor. She is the guest guitarist on that eloquent instrumental ballad from the latest Foo Fighters’ album, “The Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners,” as well as a collaborator with Tegan & Sara. Her distinctive style can also be heard on the new EP collaboration with Darnielle, the Black Pear Tree EP (she wrote music, he wrote lyrics). They performed “Mosquito Repellent” from that EP together, wide smiles across their faces.
Do what you have to do
Go where you have to go
When the time comes to loosen up your grip, you’ll know
Called my friend in New York, 3000 miles away
Halfway through her metamorphosis, nothing I could say
Hoard my small resentments
Like rare and priceless gems
Hang on to your dreams until there’s nothing left of them