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Mountain Goats Concert Review: John Darnielle Burned Down My House

John_darnielle The Mountain Goats performed in Hollywood at the Henry Fonda Theatre on November 15th. I've been searching  for pieces of myself scattered among the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame ever since. Hence, my tardiness. Plus, really, what can you say about being blown away?

Poor Jenna, my devoted wife of many sacrifices, lined up outside the theatre with me at 5:30 when the doors didn't open until 8. I hadn't done this kind of thing in quite awhile, not since way before I had kids and salty hair.  What can I say? I have this John Darnielle thing and I wanted to make sure I was close. Only one person beat us. An odd young woman named Sarah. She was from Boston. Again, she was from Boston. Directly behind me was a kid named Jared who had just completed a 7 month rehab from heroin addiction. I asked him if he was going to meetings. He said he wasn't. I told him "You need to go to meetings, Jared." Behind Jared there was a couple who talked about cocaine and Pokemon. The guy was really talking up Snorlax, which me and his girlfriend thought was totally ridiculous. "Mountain Goats fans are weird." I whispered to Jenna. She looked at me pensively, like she knew I had a disease but didn't have the heart to tell me.


So you've either heard of The Mountain Goats or you haven't and, if you have, you either like them or you don't. If you know about them and don't like them, it's probably a good thing that we're not roommates. We'd have all sorts of misunderstandings. We'd resent each other. We'd use passive-aggressive means to destroy each other's souls. If you've never heard of them, consider this post a message from God or some other Being who composes destinies, a signpost on your path down what is Meant To Be, and start downloading. If you already know and love them - hey - me too. This is not an objective review written from the perspective of cool detachment.

The show was beyond positive adjectival representation. I want to leave my family and tune John Darnielle's guitars.


So this was my introduction to The Mountain Goats live: Samuel 15:23 off the recently released album, The Life of the World to Come. There's some crackle in the audio. The video pirates who recorded this show ought to be ashamed to call themselves video pirates.

The studio version of this song is very mellow and every time he says "Go down to the netherworld," he pauses and nearly whispers "Plant grapes," but, during this performance at 3:27, when they all come to a full stop, he yells "PLANT GRAPES!" and the band erupts - well - I just about lost my fucking mind. So, that didn't take long. 3 minutes and 27 seconds and I lost my fucking mind.


He was happier than I imagined he would be. A lot of his music is drenched in a feeling somewhere between stunned sadness and outright despair, so it was a pleasure to see how plainly happy he was to be performing in front of an audience. He looked like a kid playing baseball.

I didn't like the suits. I'm trying to balance my review a little. The suits. Eh.


I was so happy in a really fucking sad kind of way that he played this song.   

When my cousin Adam was killed on a snowmobile last January, I put this song on repeat, played it 42 times, and wrote this post.

When he said the word "tongue" at 1:17, the muscles in his neck did this crazy vibrating thing, his voice quivered, and it boiled the marrow in my bones. Listen to him say "And you're falling off that cliff somewhere...". Have you ever heard a bigger voice in all your life? Tell me where.


And this!

If that doesn't make you happy, we can't be friends. It's nothing personal. We just live in two distinct worlds with no viable potential for relationship.

Of special note, that violin plucking and strumming in the shadows was Owen Pallett, from the opening band, Final Fantasy.

Jenna liked Final Fantasy.


And he played The River Song.

Did you watch his right hand? You should play it again and watch his right hand. 

It just struck me as I mentioned John Darnielle's right hand that this concert review is dwelling on very particular moments and I wondered how it could possibly be relevant to you. I'm sorry. I don't really know. But it's hard for me to say anything huge and sweeping about the whole show because it was an incredible show made of 1000s of details. However, when the entire audience sang No Children, there was a kind of loss in particularity and we all became this one big writhing thing, kind of like when you're fucking.

Me and Jenna are actually in this one. She's blond and dancing, in the very front, and I'm the tall guy next to her. When Darnielle leaves his microphone, he comes over to us and says he hopes we die. I almost did.


As luck would have it, the inept Los Angeles video pirates dropped the ball on what was the highlight of the show for me and didn't record it. But here's a clip of him singing Song for Dennis Brown from a different show. It's nearly ruined by the people singing along but it still conveys something of what I want to say about the performance in Los Angeles.

Here's the deal, to the best of my explanatory power, with what happened when The Mountain Goats played Song for Dennis Brown at the show I saw. When Darnielle nails it, you find yourself in a completely different situation than just being a person listening to a guy playing a song. There's something else going on (the only other person who's ever done this to me is Neil Young). Sure, all he's "really" doing is producing sound with his guitar and his voice - that's all the reality police will let us say. But we know better. There are instances of song that create entire atmospheres. Inside of which, some funky things happen that resist language or at least make you sound like a stoned hippie.

Distinctions give way.

I don't know how else to say it. The thing that most people resist when they first confront The Mountain Goats - The Voice! - is precisely the thing that takes you apart. Darnielle's voice will burn you down. I swear to you. Even if you think you can't stand it, I guarantee you - if you were in some stupid cafe, minding your own business, and John Darnielle, from some lonely corner, started straining out Song for Dennis Brown, you'd stop whatever you were doing and wonder what the fuck was happening. Because he calls you away. You go away and the whole world is just this haunting story about a dead reggae singer floating in the air. Yes. The world is a song. It's an attention thing. He commands your attention in such a focused way that you dissolve into some crazy Eastern religion kind of shit.

And when he's done he spits you out into some blinky new world that feels better than the one that hurts all the time.

That's all language will let me say. Except, go buy the music and go see the show.

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i've never seen the Mountain Goats live but your description of the show makes me want to. they were recommended as to me as a close comparison to Neutral Milk Hotel and I immediately loved "Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton". it was so punk rock without being fist pumping & nose bloodied. ya, know? anyway, i've dabbled in Mountain Goats territory and what i've heard I really like. you are obviously much more of an afficionado than I, but your exuberance and passion for seeing a band, and a man, that you idolize in the raw is an emotion I can understand fully. i recently had a live show epiphany in October when I saw Dr. Dog. in short: they are an amazing AMAZING band. seeing them live made me feel like I was witnessing live music played for the first time ever. it was life changing.

thanks for sharing your experience.

ps - outside the venue @ 6:00 for a 9:00 show will SO be me this Friday when I see Dr. Dog again.

welcome to the club!
you should be receiving your official fan-boy membership card in the mail within a few days.


Yes absolutely yes! I'm with you--I think John Darnielle is beyond brilliant, and what he does to one's soul is...well, it's inexplicable. I find myself wanting to listen to him when I am deeply sad or deeply happy or deeply angry. He just confirms everything, somehow. I saw The Mountain Goats last year in Bloomington, Indiana, where John was born, and he was utterly charming and funny, and he blew the roof off the mutha. How, how, how does he do it?


The mountain goats must be experienced live! He is my favorite person of all time to see live and it's not the same as hearing an album (which are also pretty awesome). Thanks for the review!


Your posts, particularly about this, him, the band, seize me in this certain way that I just never know what to say except: I love you, brother.

So there's that.

Oh, and rock on.


I don't think I breathed the whole time I read this.

When you wrote that post that I commented on about how you should listen to them, I wished, deeply and viscerally, that you would A. like them and B. see them live some day. This is genuinely a wish come true.

The happy thing? That was my favorite part of seeing them live. JD is goofy, joking between songs, being utterly likable. Then he starts singing and it's just RAW RAW RAW RAW RAW and so beautiful.

Thank you for this review, I've been very excited to hear how it went.


PS the suits are weird.

The lights, too. I saw them in a tiny rec hall on a tiny college campus.

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