Thursday, March 26, 2009

Given what I know about that rock

Last night we saw John Vanderslice and John Darnielle (a.k.a. The Mountain Goats) at the Somerville Theatre. I would have been happy to see either one play solo at this venue -- hell, I'd see almost anyone at this venue -- but to have them both together, playing acoustic, was pretty cool.

Vanderslice started us off with a set of passionately rendered acoustic versions of his heavily-produced, moody paeans to lost lovers and lost rabbits, then Darnielle took the stage. After he had played the songs he wanted to play and began taking requests from the audience, it became apparent that many of the audience members were superfans determined to hear the most obscure items from his sizable catalogue. Luckily they made some excellent requests, from the angry and hilarious divorce epic "No Children" ("I hope you die! I hope we both die!") to the encore performance of "This Year", whose chorus, "I am gonna make it / through this year / if it kills me" clearly resonated with our recession-battered audience.

An early highlight was Darnielle's performance of Ace of Base's "The Sign", which my Bostonist colleague Christine described as "less a cover than an annotated critical edition, the original text broken up with observations and footnotes and questions." Before he began to play, Darnielle confessed. "I love this song ... I had to stop playing it after a while, because it gets to the point where, 10 years into the relationship, you have to stop having sex four times a day." (As someone who listened to that entire cassette over and over again almost nonstop the year that it came out, I completely understand this emotion. This early and repeated exposure to Ace of Base may explain my generation's current fixation with Swedish rockers, actually.)

But the other memorable moment of the night was when an audience member requested his little-known ditty "Beach House." Peep the lyrics:

I get letters telling me since I moved away
you've taken to hanging out on that rock about a mile from shore
Given what I know about that rock, mainly that it's populated by seals
I strongly suggest to you that you not hang out there anymore

'Cause the seal is a wily and a vicious creature
and the seal will bite you if you give him half a chance
Yeah the seal has a mind set on violence
and the seal is the sworn enemy of man

Now when I say that the seal is vicious I use the term advisedly
according to Webster's 9th New Collegiate, definition 4b.
Which states that vicious means marked by ferocity
and offers as a synonym...savage

'Cause the seal is a vicious and a wily creature
and the seal has a mind full of evil designs
and the seal will harm you and laugh about it
Yeah the seal is not a creature you want to toy with
Yeah the seal is not a creature you want to toy with
Yeah. Did I also mention that he and Vanderslice are creating a tour EP called "Moon Colony Bloodbath" about astronauts who harvest organs on the moon? No? Well, Christine did. Good thing the official writeup was her responsibility.

If you're wondering where the connection to food is in all this, well, don't worry. There is one. You see, in my favorite cookbook, I Like Food, Food Tastes Good, which contains essays and recipes written by members of indie bands, Darnielle has contributed an essay, and I kept thinking about it as he played. His recipe is for something vaguely Indian (I will dig it up after I unpack all my cookbooks). In the book, he rhapsodizes about the wonders of clarified butter and the joys of eating real food when not on the road. And despite all of his angry songs and his sardonic sense of humor, he is nothing but earnestly sweet in his essay. "When I get home from tour," he says, "I look forward to cooking for my wife more than almost anything."

The moral of the story being this: John Darnielle is a slightly schlubby former psychiatric nurse whose lyrics concern mostly adolescent angst and evil stepfathers and seal-related paranoia. So if John Darnielle can find domestic bliss and become a rock god and learn to cook with ghee, there is hope for all of us.

(Photos courtesy of Christine Fernsebner Eslao for Bostonist)


Blogger Virginia said...

Love Vanderslice (an SF local, who we love to see live)! Mountain Goats are great, too - what a lineup. Loved the lyrics you shared... and hilarious about the Ace of Base cover (I have to admit I listened to them frequently back in the day and it became me and my brother's weird obsession to get all their crappy CDs after that main big one in the '90's! Little known/shared fact!)

10:21 AM  
Blogger Ryan Rose said...

It's okay, Virginia. I think we can all relate to the way Darnielle feels about Ace of Base. I was obsessed with them back in the day..

8:52 AM  
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