The last time Mountain Goats tip-toed across the Florida state line it was back in 2010, and that was about all they did, performing as part of Harvest for Hope Festival in St. Augustine.
And the time they made it any further than that... Well, let's just say we got bored flipping through archives trying to find a date south of Orlando.
But alas! The Goats came all the way South to Culture Room on Monday, and not just in one piece, but two: John Darnielle on guitar and keys, while Peter Hughes took to the bass. Alongside the Baptist Generals, Mountain Goats played to a full house of Floridians, singing along to tunes about Florida by folks who, admittedly, never really spent much time in the Sunshine State.
The doors opened promptly at 7:30, daylight still lingering as a sure sign of summer. And by 8:15, the patio and dimly lit interior of the venue was packed in, close to the stage, audience members quiet with anticipation.
Just when the room was about as full as it was going to get for the night, two men, seemingly unrelated to each other in any way, took up their respective instruments, or a selection of respective instruments anyhow, as the duo Baptist Generals. One dude with heavy dreads was playing bass, and the other, scarf around his waist, shook a tambourine/cymbal combination.
They played as if they had no idea how good they actually are. Sure, they were having fun getting a rise out of the audience, but speaking to the sound guy after almost every song, the band never really seemed too pleased with their output throughout the set. Mixing mouth noise with punchy acoustic bass, it is enough to keep the crowd of fifteen to fifty year olds interested and even bopping along to the scaled down rhythms pushing through the simply mic'd combination amps on stage.
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After about a half hour, they exited the stage, and no sooner that they did, Darnielle and Hughes took the stage, both wearing suits. They opened with the staggered energy that carries throughout all of their albums.
Then the dialogue began. Based on song content and recent interviews, it's hard to imagine that Darnielle is as talkative or positive in real life as he is on stage. For a man who writes songs about characters that hope they die, or never get better, or only get around to healing too late, Darnielle seemed overwhelmingly pleased with himself and the crowd after ringing out the last note to each song. More than that, Darnielle took the time to explain each song's content, even cracking wise,
"This is another Mountain Goats song that you won't really understand until after a year. This is our best marketing scheme. You guys should try it."
Along with the impromptu preludes, Darnielle apologized for taking so long to return to South Florida, which is an appropriate prelude in itself to the selection of songs they nailed off of their Tallahassee release, telling the story of folks running from themselves, find themselves in Florida, and the subsequent results of their end game. Darnielle paints an incredibly vivid image of Florida in "Going to Dade County" among others. It is hard to believe that his tunes are fictional, but he's got excellent anecdotes to keep us believing.
Darnielle is a fiction writer of the machine kind. He knows and understands his craft so intimately that he can churn out a story without too much in the way of inspiration. The longest he took on stage to tell a story was when he talked about growing up and watching wrestling matches instead of going to the movies.
But in the same way he could pull a story out of thin air with all of its crafted details, the lyrics just as easily escaped him.
With a few false starts and a series of smiles disguising profanity, Darnielle lost track of two songs, though quickly redeemed himself through his energetic charm, starting the songs over entirely to get them right. There was even a moment where, because the audience requested it, Darnielle taught Hughes to play a song they hadn't even rehearsed, which they performed flawlessly. Ironically enough.
Mountain Goats cleared their hour and a half long set with "No Children," another off the Tallahassee release. Though the evening was sprinkled with a balance of songs across all of their titles, the audience received those from Tallahassee and The Sunset Tree the most warmly.
After just sixty seconds of exiting the stage, the band reappeared and invited Baptist Generals on stage with them to round out a three song encore. As swiftly as the bands appeared onstage, they were gone. The energy left in the room was not void of anything, though everyone still seemed to be ready to take on more.
If you were at the Mountain Goats show at Culture Room last night, you didn't leave exhausted and eager to bail out of the venue, you most likely felt satisfied and inspired.
Let's just hope it doesn't take them another seven years to bring that vibe and those anecdotes back to Florida.
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