The Mountain Goats | 10.23.06

At this year's Pitchfork Music Festival, there were easily 3,000 people watching, singing, and loving everything about the band, just like me.

 

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  Photo by Todd Owyoung

 

The Gargoyle Washington University, St. Louis

Upon hearing the Mountain Goats were finally coming back to St. Louis, I started digging up every album of theirs, obscure or not, listening to every song, relearning every word, reliving every emotion that comes with John Darnielle's top shelf songwriting. Yeah, I borderline on scary when it comes to this band. I don't want to go into too much detail; let's just say that I'm a rather "complicated" Mountain Goats fan. About three years ago, the last time the Goats were in St. Louis, a half-packed (and now-defunct) Rocket Bar was treated to one of the most intimate, humble, and brilliant shows around. It's a show that easily lives in my all-time top five. Since that time, the band's stock has gone up—at this year's Pitchfork Music Festival, there were easily 3,000 people watching, singing, and loving everything about the band, just like me. At that moment, I knew the band's demographic had changed.

The Gargoyle, a student-run venue at Washington University, was an interesting choice for the Mountain Goats to play. I imagine, for a band, university pay is very good; and I don't blame the Goats for wanting to make a little money while on the road. Some problems: no smoking, no drinking, bad sound, and a room full of vainglorious college kids (vintage suede suit jackets included). The atmosphere didn't seem conducive to a Mountain Goats show. When Darnielle is maniacally pumping out his bitter, alienated love songs, a beer in hand seems good company, helping us to understand and relate. Tonight, this was not meant to be.

More problems: opening act, Jennifer O'Connor, to put it as plain as her show, was boring. I expected more from the Matador Records artist, as she clumsily played through her set with the kind of attention a fourth grader pays to math. To make her show more awkward, a film crew (making a documentary on O'Connor) seemed to loom over the crowd, like a big-brother figure, taking up considerable floor space, and oblivious to the fact that 300 other people were attempting to watch her performance.

One great thing about the Mountain Goats is that they set up quickly and easily. This is especially beneficial after a less-than-stellar opening act. A keyboard, an acoustic guitar, and a bass is all it takes to complete the diminutive arrangement. Simplicity has been a cornerstone for the Mountain Goats, utilizing a "less is more" approach for the majority of their career. Darnielle and Co. quickly went into a few songs from the new album Get Lonely. The delivery Darnielle musters with his newer songs is undeniably personal. But tonight, for the Mountain Goats, the moods and presence they bring with them seemed to be left outside in the cold.

When Darnielle is on, there is no denying his talent. When he's just a little off, he can come across as exceedingly tedious and his songs can seem longwinded. One thing that sets Darnielle apart from his contemporaries is his ability to interact with the audience. Unfortunately, his between-song banter seemed to outshine his musical performance, giving a snowball effect to the band's set. The audience was completely stationary—as St. Louis crowds often are—and seemed to be there against their will, wholly uninterested in what was happening onstage.

To the crowd's defense, the Mountain Goats didn't play too many of their energetic crowd pleasers. Songs like "No Children," "See America Right," "Home Again Garden Grove," "Cubs in Five," and "Southwood Plantation Road" were all left out. The band did burn through some older favorites such as "Baboon," "There Will Be No Divorce," and "Color in Your Cheeks," but I don't think the majority of the audience were even familiar with those songs. The band's version of "Lion's Teeth" from last year's The Sunset Tree was entertaining, even without those doom-like strings the album so graciously employs. Overall, the set was filled with the more down-to-earth Mountain Goats songs—slower tracks that seemed to be dragging yawns out of just about everyone in attendance, including myself. The band doesn't need to play just to please the crowd, but there is something to be said about ending a set with a cover that nobody knows. The Mountain Goats had a bad night.

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