I go to a good number of shows in a given year. Live music is almost always worth a listen, so most of the time, I don’t go home disappointed. Even an average band sounds better live, so imagine my excitement at finally seeing The Mountain Goats, a band that I consider to be far, far above average in every way.
It didn’t matter that I was recovering from stomach flu. It didn’t matter that I still had an ear infection. I was so excited to see The Mountain Goats that no amount of illness, or Sudafed-induced drowsiness was going to stop me.
Arriving at the Variety Playhouse just in time to snag a front row seat, I took two more Sudafed and waited for the show to start. Within a few minutes, Megafaun, another band from Durham, NC (current home of The Mountain Goats) took the stage. I had never heard Megafaun’s music and had no idea what to expect.
Megafaun started their set by welcoming us all to North Carolina, claiming that it was “a state of mind” and we were all in it. They then proceeded to make the most hideously awful noise I have heard in some time. This atrocious sound lasted for 15 or so long seconds before the trio broke into a soft, melodic, bluegrass tune.
The trick worked and I was immediately drawn in to this band’s energetic brand of alt-country/new-grass. Megafaun is made up of two brothers, Brad and Phil Cook and friend Joe Westerlund. All three sing and play multiple instruments, sticking mostly to a set-up of banjo, guitar and drums, but sometimes switching the drums for an additional guitar. At one point, the group asked the audience to provide backing vocals, and the growing crowd responded in kind, singing loudly and surprisingly on key.
After a completely satisfying set from Megafaun, it was time for The Mountain Goats to take over. Similar to Megafaun’s cacophonous opening, The Mountain Goats came on stage to a voice saying “America, this is your punk attack” followed by a swell of 1990’s hardcore Prodigy-esque music.
For those audience members who suddenly thought they had come to the wrong show, The Mountain Goats quickly ended the punk rock moment, breaking into a lovely and mellow version of “Liza Forever Minnelli”, a song that accents lead singer John Darnielle’s California roots with the great line “Anyone here mentions “Hotel California” dies before the first line clears his lips”.
This was followed by “Broom People”, sounding loud and full. The Mountain Goats sweeping and booming sound comes in a refreshing contrast to Darnielle’s sometimes strained and nasally voice. The overall effect was clear, resonant and striking.
After about five songs, Darnielle sang one song with only piano accompaniment and then a number of songs on stage by himself, playing guitar. This included the unreleased “Song for My Step Father”, a track that Darneille wrote for The Sunset Tree but left off the album because he didn’t want to have to play it on tour or explain it to press.
The band came back after a few solo songs and balanced the soft solo set with some more full and upbeat tracks, nicely balancing older songs with ones from their new album. Just before the final song of the main set, Darnielle, who had been chatty all night, said to the crowd, “I don’t want to ruin anything for you, but after we’re done, if you clap about a minute, we’ll come back and play another song.” True to his word, the band came back out for not one, but two encores. The first encore ended with the band inviting Megafaun back on stage for what is possibly The Mountain Goats’ most popular song, the anthemic, “This Year”.
Even into the second encore, I didn’t want this show to end. Let me say now, if you ever get the chance to see The Mountain Goats live, go! I don’t care if you are sick or dying or it’s snowing or whatever excuses you may have. Just go. Trust me. They’re that good.
Jonah Parzen-Johnson at Lilypad
Jonah Parzen-Johnson has an innate ability to make the baritone sax sound like bagpipes, and maybe that’s why I cried.
Mostly I cried because Jonah tells radiant stories with his saxophone and analog synth, working the brass and pedals to recreate the framework which surrounds his album Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow: Parzen-Johnson wanted to make “something of myself that’s for everybody else.”
Jonah opened his set with “Stay There, I’ll Come to You,” showcasing the harmony between synth and sax right off the bat. With haunting lilts, the two combined into a ribbon of melody, pulsating inside the ear as well as the heart. Much like the song’s title, Jonah was the one approaching the audience as an experimental troubadour of tête-à-tête.
The back stories and thoughts behind each song tied in so well with the raw, almost throaty sax, developing such strong, emotional resonance with the musical layers. The skeleton shook.
Speedy Ortiz “riiiiise above and gliiiiiide away” at The Sinclair
The Sinclair was a packed house Wednesday night for the Speedy Ortiz CD release party; as a hometown gig for the Northampton, MA-based band, kinetic warmth buzzed through friends and fans alike as Sadie Dupuis and crew played their freshly-release Foil Deer track-by-track.
What’s a party without some guests, though? That’s where Krill and Mitski come in.
Krill kicked off the night with some tracks from A Distant Fist Unclenching, other goods from Lucky Leaves. Lead singer/bassist Jonah Furman brought to mind early (read: good) Billy Corgan, which I’m not sure he will appreciate. But I think he’ll appreciate this: I couldn’t stop laughing because then I kept thinking about Marilyn Manson telling Billy Corgan that he looked like Charlie Brown.
Opening with “Theme from Krill,” the Boston trio has a knack for rhythm and melody that burrows into your brain. The dreamy bleakness of “Purity of Heart.” The discordant garage rock and hiccupping guitar and warbly Scooter-ness of “Foot.” Krill’s sound is a good, comfy noise that keeps you wiggling and all that good stuff. Be sure to catch the band at Boston Calling.
Years & Years at Royale Boston
During winter storm Juno, UK electro pop group Years & Years were forced to cancel the first show of their two-night stint in New York City back in January. After the snow finally melted, they made the rounds again this past March, playing several shows in California, South by Southwest before finally landing in Boston.
Due to popular demand, the show was moved from The Sinclair to the Royale in downtown’s Theater District.
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