Princess Cornflakes

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Mountain Goats at NYU – the Goats are All Right

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Last night I went to see The Mountain Goats at the NYU Kimmel Center – my first concert since Einsturzende Neubauten in 2003. As my husband and I stood there watching, we realized that everyone was about 15-17 years younger than us and they all had tight jeans on. Lots of people are talking about the “emo” kids – I guess today’s variation on goth. They make fun of their long bangs and overly sensitive ways. I just think they are young kids listening to new music, and we call them “emo” because we are jealous that we don’t look as good as they do in tight jeans. I don’t think that these kids are any more effete than we were at age 18-20.

Anyway, The Mountain Goats consist of John Darnielle on guitar and Peter Hughes on bass. They are one of a new category of what I call “half bands”. Like the White Stripes, the Mountain Goats only have 2 members who double up on instruments. Therefore John Darnielle sings, plays guitar and tries to keep the rhythm by slapping the guitar occasionally. Hughes just plays bass and stands there looking very cute in his 3 piece mod suit.

John Darnielle is also one hell of a good songwriter. He’s been through a lot in life and he’s heard a lot of music. He grew up in Norwalk, not far from my hometown of Long Beach, and claims to have spent his youth listening to Gun Club records that he picked up from some Hawaiian owned record store in a local strip mall. The Gun Club are one of the great under-sung bands of punk so if Darnielle’s story is true, it’s an inspiring tale.

Darnielle writes about his abusive step father, he writes about Kurt Cobain, he writes about speed users in Oregon, he writes concept albums about fictitious alcoholics rotting in old houses in Tallahassee, trapped by love and substance abuse to a trashy everyday of cheap gin and game shows. He writes well about these intense situations in a first person voice, alternating between profound metaphor and trivial moments that make the songs seem so lifelike, for example, “This Year”:

I played video games in a drunken haze
I was seventeen years young.
hurt my knuckles punching the machines
the taste of scotch rich on my tongue.

and then cathy showed up and we hung out.
trading swigs from the bottle all bitter and clean
locking eyes, holding hands,
twin high maintenance machines.

Yes, I know, that last line is a grabber. Darnielle has a damn fine knack for language.

He also sings his lyrics with passion. Sometimes his singing is soft accompanied by his gentle guitar strumming, sometimes he bursts into high gear with a sudden whiny yell, eyes closed, as if he’s possessed by some inner demon. At these moments he’s singing directly from the heart, no faking. Darnielle’s inspiration, Gun Club lead singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce also broke out into moments of true passion with his vocals, his voice literally cracking in songs like “Sleeping in Blood City” or “Like Calling up Thunder”, and Jeffrey never faked it either. But the reality of Jeffrey’s demons were just the problem. They killed him in the end. Darnielle’s demons are just in his imagination and in his memory. Had Jeffrey lived and “walked the straight path to the end of his days”, perhaps he would have learned to control the demons for the purposes of his music. But like Billy Holiday or Bob Marley, perhaps we prefer Jeffrey to be a legend.

And oh yeah, the NYU show….they didn’t play “No Children”, the crowd-pleasing singalong song that everyone requests. Perhaps they are trying to get away from this one. I’ve heard it too many time and am sick of it so that was fine with me. They played Tallahassee which was great. But I really wish they had played “Dilauded” a song that truly has “enough sexual tension to split the atom”, as Darnielle put it so well.


Written by nattie

November 30, 2007 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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