Live Shots: The Mountain Goats at Swedish American Hall


“Oh god, I’m not remembering the third verse,” John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats said Wednesday at the Swedish American Hall, and continued to play familiar chords as someone from the second row shouted out the next line. His memory jogged, the singer finished “Isaiah 45:23” from 2009’s The Life of the World to Come and asked the woman he apparently recognized, “was that you?” She nodded, and he smiled, saying how great it was when someone who has been a fan from the beginning knows the words to one of the newer songs.

Are there casual fans of the Mountain Goats? “The odds that 149 of the 150 people in this room have heard this story are high,” Darnielle said, as he introduced a song. “Tell it anyway!” someone yelled. However much the singer may ramble and repeat himself at shows, the rapport he has with his audience allows it. Which is a good thing, since as much as I’d be hard pressed to say whether more time was spent talking or playing music, I couldn’t say which I enjoyed more.

Darnielle clearly loves the performance – at times he’ll hit a certain line and step away from the mic, struck with a huge grin on his face – but also takes a lot of pleasure in relating the back-stories and concepts of his songs, whether buying a desk with his father, character actor Lon Chaney Jr. losing his voice, or how Mario’s quest makes him better than Jesus. (“There you are, grabbing resurrections left and right.”)

The set for the night – the first of two at the Swedish American – came from all over the catalog, and included new song “Night Light” from a forthcoming album which Darnielle said was (like much of his oeuvre) “about mental illness, in big scare quotes, a useless term that’s used to exclude people.”

As a treat for the San Francisco audience, which Darnielle said has always treated The Mountain Goats well, he partially ad-libbed “Song for Greg Valentine,” about a wrestler who always fell back on a simple plan: “break legs, break legs, break legs.”

There was an encore in which Darnielle played “You Were Cool” – a "very special song" he intends never to release on record – and then the lights went up. Out in the street, a woman said to her friend, “He knows we’ll all be back tomorrow.”

-Pure Milk
-Dinu Lipatti’s Bones
-Stars Around Her
-Rotten Stinking Mouthpiece
-Ox Baker Triumphant
-Night Light
-Isaiah 45:23
-Alpha Gelida
-San Bernadino
-Black Pear Tree
-Thank You Mario, But Our Princess is in Another Castle
-Grendel’s Mother
-The Hot Garden Stomp
-You Were Cool
-Alpha Incipiens

In contrast to the Mountain Goats, guitarist Dustin Wong was tight lipped, only opening his mouth briefly to sing without words (and to thank the room at the beginning and end of his set, wide-mouthed with beaming gratitude.) Best known for his work with Ponytail, Wong is in league with Merrill Garbus, Reggie Watts, and Owen Pallett, using looping pedals and technological tweaks to create a sound bigger than one person.

For most of the show, Wong was seated, using both feet to manipulate the pedals in a way that was often more reminiscent of a drummer than a traditional guitarist. The individual sounds were sometimes minimalist, slowly strumming a chord to its limit, or plucking on the bottom end to create tabla percussions, but as he built the music up, brick by brick, it grew into an impressive wall of sound. (Like an Eric Johnson made out of legos.)

Against a swirl of feedback Wong would occasion a few big, bassy parts, showing that individual notes still mattered. Tracklisting? Forget about it. From 2010’s seamless Infinite Love or the recent Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads? Can’t tell you if it was “Tea Tree Leaves Retreat” or “Triangle Train Stop.” The transitions consisted of adding or subtracting a layer, until Wong would shut everything off leaving the one piece he was currently playing, showing that he was still behind the controls.