Thursday, May 12th, 2005
Love Love Love
The Mountain Goats were in T.O. last night. I’ve been pumped for this show for some time now, so let’s get into it.
I mean it in the most complimentary way when I say that Minneapolis’ Jeff Hanson, the first opener last night, sounds like a girl. He looked like a pretty normal, somewhat stocky midwestern dude in a hoodie, and his speaking voice is pretty nondescript, but when he sings, it’s like HIGH. One review I read described him as Elliott Smith if he were a girl, and while I can see where they’re coming from, I don’t really agree. Hanson’s stuff didn’t have that desperately sad undercurrent that Smith’s did (which probably bodes well for his mental health) and his guitar playing, while impressive, is less intricate. But combined with that voice, it definitely gave his stuff an otherworldly quality that should make him a standout in the extremely crowded “dude with an acoustic guitar” genre. Worth watching out for.
All I knew about Austin’s Shearwater was that they share some members with Okkervil River, an act about whom I know about as much as I do about Shearwater… I was, however, immediately taken in by their hauntingly fragile country-pop. Some random reference points would be Misra label-mates Centro-Matic and Sparklehorse with a dash of recent Wilco thrown in for good measure – not much surprise then, that I liked them a lot. The sonic cacaphony that closed out their set sounded very Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and while it sounded a little out of place with the delicacy of the rest of their set, I applaud the effort to bring a little more to the table. I picked up a copy of their latest full-length, Winged Life, and hope it measures up to the live show.
Judging from the size and enthusiasm of the crowd at Lee’s Palace last night by the time the headliners too the stage, I’d say some people here have been waiting a very long time for the Mountain Goats to come to town. A decade’s worth of pent-up requests came flying at John Darnielle over the course of their show, forcing him to apologize for no longer knowing how to play some of them. But what he didn’t play he made up for with what he did play. performing mainly as a two piece, Darnielle and co-conspirator Peter Hughes’ set list covered the breadth of the Mountain Goats’ repetoire, from the early boombox-fidelity compositions (which probably never sounded better than they do live) through the recent, more polished 4AD records. I was a little surprised that they didn’t concentrate more on The Sunset Tree, but maybe they knew that the audience would be clamoring for everything and they had best oblige.
Thanks to the stripped-down arrangement and super-clean mix, Darnielle’s frantic guitar playing and high, nasal vocals were loud and clear and well complimented by Hughes’ loping, melodic bass playing and backing vocals. Although it was just the two of them, it never sounded thin or musically lacking. Three-quarters of the way through they brought out members of Shearwater to fill out the sound for the remainder of the main set, but even their contributions were kept relatively sparse. All in all it sounded great, and hearing the songs performed live only reinforces the fact that Darnielle is one of the best songwriters around. His writing ranges from joyous, depressing, poignant, angry and wickedly funny – sometimes all in the same verse, let alone the same song.
Darnielle himself was quite the funny frontman, quite enthused by the response from the crowd and frequently bantering with the audience, declaring his love for Toronto for bringing the world The Junior Boys (though we was corrected that they’re actually from Hamilton – but points for knowing where Hamilton was). He and Hughes were also a good deal more animated on stage than I’d expected, constantly moving about onstage and making use of the open real estate. The set was relatively short – playing just over an hour, including two encores, they left the crowd hollering for more but I suspect that even if they played three hours, people still wouldn’t have been satisfied. It was a fantastic show, one of the best of the year so far, and I only hope it doesn’t take them another ten years to come back to Toronto. I’ll go through my photos tonight and have them up tomorrow. Hey, it was late, I was tired. Update: Photos are now up.
Taking advantage of the break between tours, Wilco axeman Nels Cline brings the Nels Cline Singers to Toronto on May 20, tickets $20. The Rotate This webpage says they’re at the Silver Dollar, Nels’ website says Tranzac. One or the other. I’d think about going to this, but that’d be five shows in six nights and by god, as we’ve already established, I am not a young man anymore. Update: Looks like it’s at the Silver Dollar. More info here.
The Great Pumpkin, Billy Corgan, will be at the Carlu on July 2 to pimp his solo album, TheFutureEmbrace (no spaces, please), out June 21. In case you didn’t know, The Carlu is the fancy ballroom dealie on the 7th floor of College Park at the corner of Yonge and College. I hear it’s pretty swank.
Anton Newcome and The Brian Jonestown Massacre hold court at Lee’s Palace on July 27. Tickets $10.50.
Damn, thanks for everyone who left me birthday greetings in yesterday’s comments and by email. That’s far and away a new record for comments – now I know how it feels to be Stereogum on a slow day.
It is the middle of May. Why the hell is there a wind chill? Stupid capricious weather gods.
np – Shearwater / Winged Life