Saturday, April 11, 2009


In the last couple of weeks I have been feeling pinned and wriggling, and what it makes me crave more than anything is live music. I want to plunge into a loose crowd in a dark room and feel only the sound and the moment.

It touches the little ache of longing I feel lately for my other life, my Portland life, where I associate shows with bear hugs and shouting greetings and cheering on friends. I also just need the relief of seeing other people making their art, live and in the moment.

Last week the Mountain Goats came, in solo form. There's a little student nightclub here that's actually a great venue, dark and intimate with good sightlines and a sprawling beer list--in my youth I saw countless bands here, the 90s playbook (Guided by Voices, Tortoise, Velocity Girl, Tsunami, Shellac, Come, Gaunt, Cibo Matto, Labradford, the Jesus Lizard, Run On, Ui, Tribe 8, and many more fallen through the memory gap.) The kids packed the place for the Mountain Goats, sitting adoringly on the sides of the stage and singing along loudly and fervently as a tent revival.

John Darnielle is a great performer. Of course he is funny and energetic and a gifted songwriter, but also he is not afraid to be weird, ugly, strident, hit a curdled note, make strange faces, double over, sweat, pull his glasses off and put them on again a second later. It's good to remember: you have to be embarrassing and awkward in the service of art. It's part of the process. It's real.

A couple of nights ago Des Ark came through, also solo, and played to maybe fifty people. The intimacy suited her stripped-down songs and aching voice. She played mostly newer material--no "Subtleties of Chores and Unlocked Doors," my favorite--but closed with an encore of "Lord of the Rings and His Fascist Timekeepers," where she broke before the last verse to resituate herself on the steps of the stage, unmiked, inches away from us, taking it to the next level of close.

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