Mountain Goats | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Mountain Goats




At the end of his 1994 tune "Seed Song" John Darnielle, the singer and guitarist who calls himself the Mountain Goats, closes his tale of a disastrous drought by singing "I know you're waiting for the ironic ending / And I know you're waiting for the punch line / And I know you're waiting for the rain to come by / So am I." And though these lines draw attention both to the conventions burdening a story song and to the effort he's spent wriggling out from under them, none of that diminishes the lyrics' force. Even Darnielle's earliest music, from around 1990--which he recorded on a boom box, dubbed onto cheap cassettes, and sold through the mail--displays this high level of self-conscious craftsmanship. (Fifty tracks of this hard-to-find bedroom rock have been collected on a pair of CDs issued by local indie Ajax: Protein Source of the Future...Now! and Bitter Melon Farm.) These days he still sings in the same strained but emotive voice, and he hasn't lost his flair for hitching tightly constructed narratives to vigorously strummed guitar melodies. But four of the five songs on his most recent release, New Asian Cinema (Yoyo), were recorded in a studio, adorned with overdubbed electric guitar, keyboard, harmonica, and banjo--and years of touring have turned Darnielle, once a rudimentary guitarist, into a brash and engaging performer. The biggest change, though, is in his lyrics: Gone are the ancient settings and mythological topics ("Grendel's Mother," "Song for Cleomenes"); the credit card-slinging protagonists of "Korean Bird Paintings" could be sitting next to you on the train. The comedic fare that peppered his early records has given way to the stark horror of songs like "Poltergeist" (which he hasn't yet recorded)--it paints so violent and harrowing a portrait of domesticity gone wrong that he introduces it by apologizing for what he's about to do to his characters. Though this concert celebrates the release of Bitter Melon Farm, Darnielle will probably mix fresh material in with the older stuff: when he's in front of an audience, he prefers test-driving songs that aren't yet on any album. Bright Eyes opens. Friday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. BILL MEYER

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