Mountain Goats highlight intimate FNR

by Jessilyn Yoo | 10/27/05 5:00am

This Friday, John Darnielle, vocalist and guitarist for The Mountain Goats, will be performing at Fuel along with bassist Peter Hughes, bringing with him a sound generated by personal experiences and pure human emotion. The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers, who will open and at times provide backup sounds for The Mountain Goats, promise to complement Darnielle's simplistic resonance with their gentle melodies and warmhearted musicality. Friday Night Rock expects this to be one of the most intimate performances Dartmouth has hosted this term.

"I think that this will be one of the most important shows for us on a personal level," said Pam Cortland '06, publicity manager of FNR. "We are always striving to bring bands to Dartmouth that we feel emotionally connected to, and to have that here this weekend is definitely a one-of-a-kind experience."

Prayers and Tears, led by Perry Wright and producer Alex Lazara under the buhunan label, is a group created from a medley of "various members, benefactors, patron saints and onlookers of the buhanan collective." Songs such as "Cannot Eat Better Not Sleep" and "The Sun Fell On You" show that the band's music can be quite therapeutic, with their hushed guitar and vocals, but "An Unexpected Song" demonstrates the peppiness and upbeat quality that is also incorporated into the band's albums. Lazara described Wright's style in an interview as "thriv[ing] on this polarization of this super-intimate and this cathartic release." He added, "Sometimes you have an entire song of this intimate thing and an entire song of these explosions. One of the things that attracted me to Perry's work is he plays with dynamics, and I don't think enough bands out there do."

John Darnielle grew up in California and became a psychiatric technician after high school, living for several years on the grounds of Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk. "I was getting paid pretty well and didn't have any debts. So on a lark one day, I bought a guitar," he said to me via e-mail when describing how he began The Mountain Goats. "The apartment I lived in was pretty remote and my two best friends had moved to Northern California. I had a lot of time on my hands, and I started writing songs -- random things, dumb things, time-passing things." A few years later, while in college, he decided to play at an open-mic night in order to garner opinions on his songs. "The audience reacted really favorably, so I kept it up."

Darnielle is an incredibly well-respected singer-songwriter in both the indie world and beyond, having been hailed by The New Yorker as "America's best non-hip-hop lyricist." Continuing our correspondence, Darnielle stated, "At the time I was starting, none of the stuff I was listening to really sounded at all like the sounds I was making -- I was listening to Steely Dan and the Gun Club and W.A.S.P.'s 'The Headless Children' a lot -- so I don't know about influences. I am kind of leery of the whole concept of influence anyway."

His last two albums are a testament to his personal life, something he has not spoken about in his work until recently. His newest album "The Sunset Tree," and in particular the songs "This Year" and "Dance Music," are about his abusive stepfather and his experiences in a household where he came to understand that people do not get malevolent and hateful all by themselves. Darnielle said in an interview with Amazon.com, "This album is a little bit more autobiographical than my past ones." This was not done purposefully since Darnielle does not believe in direct confessionals: "Most people start out trying to write about their lives, but I never had any interest in anything about mine. But when I started 'We Shall All Be Healed,' it felt really good. It felt kind of transgressive for me."

Darnielle's songs about ordinary, simple people speak volumes, and his craftsmanship is beyond reproach. "He writes the catchiest songs and it's remarkable how fun and listenable his songs are," adds FNR member Brendon Bouzard '06, who is also part of The Dartmouth staff. "They are efficient, meaningful, commanding and beautiful."

Throughout his 17 years as an artist, John Darnielle has come a long way in developing his songs into what they are today. Don Stewart '06 said, "In a live setting, it's easy to see how much of an investment he's made in reaching this point." Indeed, Darnielle's live performances are quiet, intimate, emotional and intense. There are times when he is jovial and communicates with the audience by talking to them (and shooting down song requests), and there are other times when he is whispering and the atmosphere manages somehow to be both electric and so quiet that you can hear a pin drop. This Friday night in the basement of Collis, you can experience this amazing brand of live performance for yourself.

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