14 November 2007

Mountain Goats with Bowerbirds

Last night, the hottest ticket in the Ohio area (imho) was not in Cleveland. It wasn't in Columbus. It wasn't in Cincinnati, nor was it even in the Buckeye state. It was in fact across the river from the Queen City. Nestled amongst the drinking halls and strip clubs in Covington, Kentucky, the twin bill of the Mountain Goats and John Darnielle's favorite band the Bowerbirds was in fact the coolest show on a Tuesday night.

I have seen the Goats (or the Goat) play many times in many forms. I caught a set with thousands at the 2006 Pitchfork festival. I saw them perform in the intimate Union in Athens. The Mad Hatter in Covington, where last night's show was, is a bit larger than the Union, with slightly better sight lines, and it is far more intimate than the outdoor ambiance of Pitchfork.

Bowerbirds were better than advertised. The folky three piece featured Beth Tacular on accordion and bass drum, Mark Paulson on violin and bass drum, and Phil Moore on guitar. All three sing, with Paulson deferring to Tacular and Moore's more frequent leads.

The group harmonizes beautifully, and their indie-folk stylings should really be getting more attention than they do. Imagine Peter, Paul and Mary crossed with an organic, rock-driven polka with a Calexico-tinged bluegrass vein and you'd be rolling down the correct alley.

The Mountain Goats set was brisk, featuring many numbers from the latest two albums as well as many numbers from the older catalog. This group was a trio, unlike the more common solo or duo version of the Goats. The set was 75 minutes tops including the encore. It seemed like the audience was hungry for another set, or at least a few more tunes, but what are you gonna do? John seemed to be a little irked by all the video and photo coverage (Blame Pitchfork coverage, not me, bud...I've been on board for the long haul).

The banter was the classic dry Darnielle delivery. The audience had a few of the classic dim wits who always call out for their favorite numbers from their billy goat log, and John gave his typical annoyed response to the repeated calls for numbers not on the planned set list. Hopefully they'll learn. This was the only complaint I had about the crowd that came out to see the greatest vegetarian songwriter this side of Paul McCartney.

The set was solid, but certainly not the best batch of Mountain Goats I've ever seen. The albums are absolutely magnificent, showcasing Darnielle's penchant for writing clever tales about himself or fictional characters that go through more terror or laughter in a given day than others experience in a lifetime. But at the show, he seemed preoccupied with something that kept him off his A game.

However, the concert did have some great moments. The performance from Bowerbirds was great, and even a B+ Goats show beats an A+ show by most other artists any day. Darnielle is a dynamic performer whose live act trumps the studio product. Unfortunately, sometimes his live performance suffers from the bipolar nature of his complicated personality.

I'll load up some of my video later. I'll list some clips below, including a great full version of "This Year." Also be sure to check out the pictures.

Mountain Goats

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