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This is partly the fault of ex-Superchunk drummer and Dave Grohl aspiree Jon Wurster, an elephant in the room who reduced just about every song played from an intimate, intricate catalogue, to a bish-bash climax of stormed cymbals. I'm not one to cavil about my favorite obscure-rockers polished up and primed for mass success, but trying to inject them with other raucous sensibilities robbed Darnielle's songs of their power. And while I'm tempted to blame Wurster's showboating and Darnielle's full-band jerking off (Chuck Berry-style duck-walking!), I also left Webster Hall feeling that perhaps songs on the new Heretic Pride, which I'd initially dug, were patchier than I first thought, and that the album tries deftly to cover up its weaknesses by pumping more dynamics than any other Mountain Goats release.
|Baaaah! The Mountain Goats went rocker in NYC. (photos by Jennifer Zarichnyj)|
That said, the whole show wasn't a bust. The Goats trio gleefully took the stage and tore into the baddest of the new ones, "Michael Myers Resplendent," which wears its arena delusions on its chorus sleeve and deserves it. That energy helped swing them through "Heretic Pride" and "New Monster Avenue" as well. The latter especially was improved by the new pyrotechnic disguises. It sounded great as Darnielle's taxing falsetto grew backwards into the lovely textures, despite the fact it was borne from 2006's questionable Get Lonely, a problematic record which only improves with repeat listens.
But as the night wore on, things got weird. The new songs weren't as recognizable to the ear as I had imagined from the album alone, so I still have trouble remembering which one bears the title "In the Craters of the Moon," for instance. And if they had to play (count 'em) nine of Heretic Pride's thirteen songs, I don't quite understand why the focus track (with video even), highlight, and token rocker "Sax Rohmer #1" was omitted. The seven or eight slow songs played in a row(!) that larded the show's middle could've definitely benefited; and really, do we need the soggy "So Desperate" in addition to the pretty good weeper "Autoclave"!?
With the spotlight on Heretic Pride, highlights from old records were sparse: three feet from the stage "Palmcorder Yajna" proved the fantastic shouter I always knew it would be, and the damning closer "See America Right" pounded hard but by show's end was ultimately too short to profit from its own momentum. It was even hard to appreciate favorites like "Have to Explode" and "Love Love Love" in the context of ballad-after-ballad, climax-after-climax. My Morning Jacket or Godspeed You! Black Emperor these guys ain't. Even a goofy, surprising run through R. Kelly's "The World's Greatest" didn't make up for the fact that the encore still left fans wanting, and I don't just mean a longing for the old stuff. Couldn't the new drummer make something of "If You See Light" or "Broom People"? It's a thin line to claim a responsibility to fans from all the way back, but someone with as deep a catalog as Darnielle's surely can't be bored by everything he did before this year, can he?
And if I can throttle Wurster just one more time, it's not that his overtly professional rock-isms didn't rock, it's that Darnielle's precisely rhythmic, unadorned guitar usually phases the dynamics in and out in a manner more tense than straight 4/4 barbarity can flex. By the time the band finally got to the token electric guitar showcase "Lovecraft in Brooklyn," it wasn't the relief everyone (well, me anyway) was expecting from all the up-and-down of the recorded version. It was just one of the others. Replaying Heretic Pride later, I was relieved that it wasn't quite as bloated as a Tuesday night's interpretations had me worried it was, but the show still didn't do it any favors.
Webster Hall Setlist:
Michael Myers Resplendent
New Monster Avenue
Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod?
Marduk T-Shirt Men's Room Incident
Have to Explode
Love Love Love
In the Craters of the Moon
Babylon Burning (The Wailers)
Sept 15, 1983
Lovecraft in Brooklyn
The World's Greatest (R. Kelly)
See America Right SEE ALSO: www.themountaingoats.net
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.
See other articles by Dan Weiss.
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