The Mountain Goats / Christine Fellows
Bowery Ballroom; New York, NY

The Mountain Goats bring people
together. Maybe it's because there's nothing hip about them. The band's
unadorned music is unabashedly personal and narrative, with each new album
serving as a volume in the often depressing but always enthralling chronicles
of lovers, friends, and family — some drawn from John Darnielle's own life,
some fictional, and some blurring the line between the two. Real or imaginary,
the characters draw you in, and their loneliness, failed relationships, and
ugly feelings become mirrors of your own. Just by showing up to a Mountain
Goats show, you're laying your emotional cards on the table.

With that in mind and my heart on my sleeve, I guess, I walked into Bowery
Ballroom. Over an hour after the doors opened, I had expected that opener
Christine Fellows would already be onstage but was surprised to see the
venue's lights on and concertgoers seated in small groups on the floor.
Something about it reminded me of a junior high slumber party. As if to
confirm that impression, a few college guys sitting next to us introduced
themselves to me and my friend. Our chatter about the show soon led to a
spirited discussion of Terence Malick films and last year's Olivia Tremor
Control performance. Throughout the night, our new, admittedly tipsy friends
probably introduced themselves to 20 people, and our part of the audience
became a sort of small community.

When she finally appeared, Christine Fellows, a folky Canadian singer and
keyboard player, provided a good preface to the main event. She was joined
onstage by two other musicians, playing the cello, xylophone, and drums. Her
songs shared basic structural elements with The Mountain Goats': minimal
instrumentals — plus the percussion, minus the guitars — backing memoir-style
lyrics. Though sometimes a bit too quirky and hyperbolic for my taste, the
majority of her songs were funny and insightful. During his set, Darnielle
praised her at length, beseeching us to "Please buy her album [The Paper
(Six Shooter)]. It's fucking astonishing." Though my
enthusiasm for her is no match for his, I have a feeling that Fellows hasn't
yet reached her peak. I wouldn't be surprised if her next album turns out to
be a revelation.

The scene when The Mountain Goats (really just John Darnielle and bassist
Peter Hughes, joined later by a keyboard player) took the stage was what I can
only call the indie rock version of that footage you see of Beatles audiences
in 1965. Darnielle returned the audience's enthusiasm in spades, in a way that
suggested he was fragile enough to need their support to power him through the
performance. The opening riffs of each song were met with widespread applause.
Everywhere, people were quietly singing along.

Much has been made of how different this year's Get Lonely is from
earlier Mountain Goats releases. While you'd be hard pressed to call it sadder
than, say, The Sunset Tree, it is palpably quieter than its
predecessors. Large stylistic shifts can make for difficult performances, but
here, the integration of often anthemic, old songs with ghostly, soft-spoken
new ones created a balance. Just as in life, there were loud moments and quiet
ones. In this context, the new material seemed more an elaboration on the
previous albums than a departure. The same audience that sang along with lines
from "You or Your Memory" ("St. Joseph's baby aspirin!") and "Jenny" ("A
pirate's life for me!") stood silent and rapt for whispery numbers like "Maybe
Sprout Wings," which opened the show, and "In Corolla," the song that finally
closed the set, after two encores.

Insistent, intractable "This Year" and "No Children" provided the most
exciting moments of the night. It was truly surreal, but also strangely
powerful, to hear an entire roomful of people shouting, "I am gonna make it
through this year if it kills me" and "I hope you die/I hope we both die."
Toward the beginning of "No Children," I looked over and realized that one of
our new friends had <i>picked up</i> the other one, who became all flailing
arms and utter exhilaration. At any other show, I almost certainly would have
found those antics annoying, but here, I kind of understood. They weren't
trying to be a pain in the ass — they were just that consumed by the
experience. Even the people screaming out requests didn't bother me. They
weren't yelling for hits at the exclusion of everything else — they were
begging for the songs that meant the most of them. So when I say that The
Mountain Goats bring people together, that's probably what I mean.

Set list:

1. Maybe Sprout Wings
2. Jeff Davis County Blues
3. Jenny
4. Color in Your Cheeks
5. Love Love Love
6. Game Shows Touch Our Lives
7. Shadow Song
8. In the Hidden Places
9. You or Your Memory
10. Dance Music
11. Moon Over Goldsboro
12. Quito
13. Your Belgian Things
14. This Year

1st encore:
15. Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive (Johnny Mercer cover)
16. No Children
17. Houseguest (by Frank, the keyboard player)

2nd encore:
18. In Corolla

Photo: Sean Ruch

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