By Nick Randall ’14
The Mountain Goats are an acoustic folk band, brainstormed in the 1990s by John Darnielle, the band’s vocalist, lyricist, guitarist — and, occasionally, their only member. The Mountain Goats focus on storytelling through sparse instrumentation that leaves room in the mix for the songs’ messages to be heard.
At Fitzgerald’s this Saturday, bassist Peter Hughes joined Darnielle to complete a harmonic duo well-suited to the venue and the crowd, armed with only an acoustic guitar, keyboard and bass guitar. For fans who knew every lyric by heart (which was almost the entire crowd, sans myself) only two instruments were necessary.
As a general rule, the quicker the songs were, the more the audience applauded. It isn’t that the audience had a short attention span: Darnielle, when writing songs, writes only what he needs to in order to tell a story, and nothing more. He doesn’t fill up the space with solos, or anything else that would fit in a traditional rock song, because they don’t contribute to the feeling he’s trying to convey.
In a similar way to Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum, Darnielle manages to cover the entire gamut of evocative human vocals with his vocal chords. He can croon lower notes, then jack his crooning to harsh staccato bursts in the same song to create effective contrast in the song’s dynamics and tone.
For the most part, the audience was engaged like a washer is engaged with the threads of a screw — wound up and kept secure by the music when it matched their tastes, and separated when the music failed to keep their attention. It’s a shame that almost all the songs on which Darnielle played piano were almost ignored by the crowd. The thing about live music is that unless it’s being played at a downtempo jazz nightclub, it needs to evoke peak energy in the crowd frequently.
Darnielle had no problem doing just that, playing just the right combination of well-known songs such as “No Children” off of their first hi-fi album, Tallahassee, as well as little-known rarities that almost never get played live, such as “Solomon Revisited” the last song off of The Mountain Goats’ first cassette recording, Taboo VI: The Homecoming. The crowd was enthused throughout the set.