published: 16 /
Lo fi act the Mountain Goats have gained a strong reputation for their songs "of catchy, alt-country bitterness". Daniel Cressey watches them play "a wonderfully intimate gig" at the London ICA
It seems like it might be amateur night at the ICA. Vinnie Miller shuffles into view and starts by apologising: “I haven’t been on stage for four months.” Then he can’t find his plectrum. A few songs later he starts singing into a microphone he has turned off two minutes earlier. Likewise Headshoppe’s lead singer gets thirty seconds into his opening song before apologising for singing the wrong verse. But while Miller is interesting to listen to – if slightly inconsistent – Headshoppe are like Half Man Half Biscuit without the jokes. That is to say: excruciating.
All is forgiven as soon as the Mountain Goats arrive however. Despite the fact that there are several albums behind them they still manage to look excited at the prospect of playing in the acoustically bare box that is the ICA. But while the Goats lack the world weariness of some they are certainly no amateurs. Accompanied by just a bassist, the guitarist and chief Goat John Darnielle thrashes out song after song of catchy, alt-country bitterness.
The Mountain Goats have perfected the art of lyrics that promise to deliver to you a totally revealing new insight into life but then just slip into incomprehensibility at the final moment. This talent continues with the more personal songs performed: “My love is like the border between Greece and Albania: Loaded with weapons.”
Darnielle looks remarkably healthy and happy for a man who has obviously lived through a fair amount. The explanations of his song inspirations sometimes make you wonder whether you should laugh or buy the poor sod a drink:
“This is a song about the people you used to love but then they sold your stereo to buy drugs so you don’t love them anymore.”
“This is a song about what happens when two people fall in love; not with each other but with speed.”
“This one is from the point of view of my girlfriend visiting me in intensive care where I’d been handcuffed to the bed.”
That said the man who whooped loudly when a song was dedicated to Darnielle’s dead friend probably should have contained himself a bit.
This was a wonderfully intimate gig, packed full of great songs, from a truly unique band; far from being the amateur night it started out looking like. Darnielle doesn’t put a foot wrong, apart from the brief interlude where he claims that it’s going to be a great year for the Chicago Cubs and Man City. Don’t base any bets on his sporting predictions but don’t miss his gigs.