John Darnielle loves Tampa. "Tampa. I’ve loved that word since I was a kid," he mused at The Mountain Goats' sold-out Crowbar show late last Wednesday night. "You could beat someone’s ass with that word"; a chuckle-worthy sentiment from a mind often wrought with searing outlooks on fleeting love, bitter revenge, and self-deprecation all recorded to tape over the past 20 years.
And it didn’t stop there. From musings on recording in the area to his an undying need to re-visit, and numerous shout outs in songs like "Tallahasee," it was damn near heartwarming to hear our terrorist attack-worthy city revered in such adoring light.
While nice, the vibe wasn’t all puppies and rainbows until Darnielle and company took the stage for the latter half of this oddly-juxtaposed, two-part show. [Text and Mountain Goats photos by Andrew, Nurses photos by Mike.]
Openers Nurses were a modestly adroit and capable act in their own right, but the stark contrast in tone between their show and the Goats' felt like the sonic equivalent to brushing your teeth before chugging a pint of lemon Gatorade.
The Portland three-piece held up decently. Their setlist felt a little derivative, ripped from the book of Yeasayer and a handful of other bands in the Afro-indie vein, but they derivative-d it well, I guess. The frontman/guitarist has this multi-octave howl that kept things interesting, lifting the most sterile of passages just a notch above “please, just end already.”
Any semblance of disinterest at Crowbar was obliterated by an explosion of chest-rattling death metal that accompanied the Mountain Goats' entrance. Darnielle and company took their posts and launched into the new, unreleased song, “In Memory of Satan,” a breezy piano number wrought with themes of self-imposed isolation and depression. “Hi. We’re the Mountain Goats,” Darnielle mustered with a happy grin after the roar of applause. For lyrical themes so often dark and brooding, Darnielle came off as an unabashedly pleasant dude throughout the evening.
What really came to light in a live setting is how well he can articulate the meaning and intentions of each song, giving each a new life with a few simple sentences. A plain concert morphed into a quasi-VH1 Storytellers episode with a Darnielle preamble of “this song’s about…” preceding a handful tracks. Frenetic revenge fantasy (“Lion’s Teeth”), carrying burdens (“Never Quite Free”), divorce (“No Children”) were all themes he waxed upon with pretty unabashed and revealing personal insight.
Darnielle rifled through the Mountain Goats' massive discography with and without band accompaniment. Tracks like “The Day the Aliens Came,” “You Were Cool,” “This Year” and another new track, “The Diaz Brothers” were all delivered with the grace and intensity of someone who sincerely loves what he does.
The Mountain Goats wanted to be there on Wednesday night, and it showed. Looking back at the capacity crowd staring and singing in adoration, I think it’s definitely safe to say that Tampa loves John Darnielle right back. Let's hope this marks the beginning of a healthy and long-lasting relationship.