The Mountain Goats at the Black Cat, Washington, DC, Thursday 20 September 2007
John Darnielle (of the Mountain Goats) made no pretense about his lack of guitar chops Thursday night at his sold-out Black Cat show. He nonchalantly asked his accompanist, Peter Hughes, which fret to put his capo on for the rousing "No Children," and he described his early songs as "written by a young man who couldn't play the guitar but meant well." The hour-long set featured pounded chords that accented his distinctive nasal voice.
That simple guitar style worked to Darnielle's advantage: Anything more complicated would have detracted from his lyrics, which are his real forte. He delivered his songs in sentences rather than as verse, so his narratives came across as short stories, most often focused on unhealthy or failing relationships. Whether Darnielle described cranking up his stereo volume to drown out his parents' arguments ("Dance Music") or running away from troubles with a friend ("Commandante"), his percussive delivery conveyed the urgency of his subjects' bleak situations.
Darnielle set his guitar aside after breaking a string during the encore, but he proceeded to sing "Jenny," backed only by Hughes's bass. The lyrics painted a carefree attitude that Darnielle captured in his delivery, unburdened by an instrument, as if to prove how inessential the guitar truly was to that song.
-- Catherine P. Lewis
.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 22 September 2007; Page C12