The Mountain Goats Fitzgerald's June 21, 2014
For storied indie-folk group The Mountain Goats' second show in Houston in the past few years, fans got a toned-down version of the full band we saw the last time they were in town. Featuring John Darnielle, the guy behind all the words, and longtime collaborator Peter Hughes on bass and back-up vocal duties, the current incarnation allowed for more flexibility in song choices throughout the evening. That made it much more fun for the die-hard fans in the audience -- and, at this particular performance, it seemed like the entire gathered group were die-hards.
From the moment the lights dimmed Saturday, you could sense a particular heightened energy wavering throughout the room, and as soon as Darnielle opened his voice for the familiar fan favorite "High Hawk Season," so did everyone else.
It's a really cool feeling to be in a room surrounded by only fans of the band you're seeing. I'm not sure if it was the free Electric Six show downstairs or the hefty ticket price that deterred those who were just going because their friend likes that "This Year" song, but I definitely saw a few different groups of people walk away after seeing how much it was.
But thankfully for us, and unfortunately for those that left, we were treated to a charming night by a very quotable Darnielle, feeding the crowd his quips about life and love in between a set heavy on requests and fan favorites. Having the ability to change the set list on a drop of a dime, with only Hughes for Darnielle to worry about, the duo just seemed to go with the ebb and flow of how the room felt.
And the room felt good...really good. Matter of fact, it was the room that guided the night right. The crowd was as attentive as I've ever seen here, ten times more than the standard Houston audience. Which didn't go unnoticed, as Darnielle made it known several times throughout the evening that this was easily the best crowd he'd ever played for in Houston.
Thinking back to the host of Mountain Goats shows I've seen, the crowds are generally always like that. They are one of those bands that might not be the biggest in the mainstream, like Phish, Ween or Primus, but have an unlimited amount of megafans throughout the world. But unlike the aforementioned bands, it's the Mountain Goats' lyrical content that draws so many people in.
Darnielle's songs are very home-hitting and easily relatable to so many different (younger) people. They are angsty enough to bat with your most emo of bands, but with upbeat rhythms and sometimes jangly guitars, they are much more accessible musically than most bands that sing about such subject matter. Darnielle's songs rarely touch on the lighthearted side of life, but that's what makes them so perfectly relatable. We've all been through some rough times, some much more than others, but the Mountain Goats let us step away from our own problems for a moment and allow us to realize that we're not the only ones dealing with this crazy fucked-up world.
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During the final moments of The Walking Dead episode "Still" during this spring's fourth season, when Daryl and Beth stood watching an old moonshine shed burn to the ground after setting it ablaze, the Mountain Goat's "Up the Wolves" provided the poignant soundtrack to the moment that served as a washing away of the past with a hopeful look to the future.
There's bound to be a ghost at the back of your closet
No matter where you live
There'll always be a few things, maybe several things
That you're going to find really difficult to forgive
There's going to come a day when you feel better
You'll rise up free and easy on that day
And float from branch to branch, lighter than the air
Just when that day is coming, who can say, who can say?"
It was only a matter of time before The Mountain Goats would wind up on the AMC hit television series, and you could find no song better suited for such an endearing moment in the show. The sensibility and realness of Darnielle's lyrics could have fit in so many prior moments in the show as it reaches several intensely emotional peaks throughout, but here the creators ingeniously picked the right time to use their tune.
This weekend performance was a good one, and while it was the crowd that left me feeling all happy inside, The Mountain Goats were the catalysts for such a solid night. Singing along to "Love Love Love," "Dance Music," "Tallahassee," "Woke Up New," "No Children" and a set closing "This Year," which they've only busted out one other time this tour oddly enough, was definitely a musical highlight of the year so far.
With the amount of love (love love) the Houston audience gave the band that night, it's assured they'll be back sooner than later.
Personal Bias: I've been a huge fan for many years. There is something incredibly cathartic about singing along with a room full of mostly strangers. Even those who seemed a bit subdued early on in the evening were eventually glued to the stage, giving their everything to what those two guys were doing onstage. Really cool stuff.
The Crowd: The best ever.
Overheard In the Crowd: A pin drop during the quiet parts. And many people singing lyric for lyric in the packed room. Some girl in the balcony, who was just ever so off-key, knew even the deep cuts. You could see random people look up to her, smile, then jump back into the performance.
Random Notebook Dump: I've always known of Darnielle's love of the Grateful Dead, a fact that initially drew me to his music in the first place. After mentioning them a few times throughout the performance, and after a brief conference with Hughes about key changes, the duo jumped into a cute little cover of their "Ripple," which Darnielle admitted he sang to his child on a nightly basis. While the cover wasn't necessarily amazing, as he seemed to have instrument problems ("I made a joke about the Grateful Dead and the ghost of Jerry Garcia came and sharpened my B-string"), it was still really cool to see two of my all-time favorite bands collide.
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