Monday, November 30, 2009

The Mountain Goats @ The Wilbur Theatre

Sean and I went to see the Mountain Goats last night at the Wilbur Theatre.

The Wilbur Theatre is a 10 minute walk from our apartment. It seats about 1200 with a general admission main floor and seating in the mezzanine and balcony. It's a nice place for a show. We sat the first row mezzanine, which are excellent seats. Living so close to the place also meant that I walked to the box office to buy tickets (I cannot stand all those online "convenience" charges).

Opening the show was Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy is essentially a solo project of Owen Pallett (although occasionally including a drummer). From skimming his wikipedia page, you'll find out that he's done the strings arrangement for such groups as Beruit and the Arcade Fire. Also, his second album has the awesome title, He Poos Clouds. I'm not sure how to describe the songs: intense baroque/geek pop? In live performances, what he does is play a few lines on the violin, then loop and sample those lines, and play another melody to the accompaniment of his original lines, then loop and sample those lines -- mixing and matching his samples, his playing, and singing. There's a little bit of stage magic too, controlling all the loops with (I couldn't really see) at least 4 foot pedals so you couldn't really tell at what point you're listening to him playing live and when you're listening to the sample. Pretty neat.

At this point, any reading the blog must know of my deep and abiding love for the Mountain Goats (that last link's to Tim's blog post which got me started back in the day). There's not a lot more I can say about that. But this was the first time I've seen them live, and so far I've got a few complaints about seeing them live:

Short shows. They played maybe for little over an hour. Sean saw them last year and it was the same. There was the opening act, and I don't feel like I got ripped off or anything, but it seems short to me.

The balance was off and the bass (both the instrument and the audio from the guy playing it) was too high.

The final thing is maybe a little uncharitable. At times, they sounded really good. And the middle section with just John Darnielle and his guitar was great. But with the full band and especially when playing their most popular songs, they really kick it up and play it loud. But the band isn't what makes the Mountain Goats the Mountain Goats. And the arrangements make them sound like a generic rock band (maybe a cover band comprised of suburban dads). On the other hand, I can understand that playing their most popular songs must be really boring for them.

Random point #1. The Mountain Goats are hilariously dorky-looking (and I've seen They Might Be Giants). I'd say they look like the band formed as a collaboration between the IT and accounting departments of a small medical supply company. When Sean went to their show last time, he took some friends who weren't very familiar with the band. One, they didn't recognize them when they came out to set up their equipment. Two, when they came back out to play and Sean's friend realizes that this is the band, he says "Is that Dwight Schrute?"

Random point #2. Even though I'd heard recordings of John Darnielle speaking before, it's rather startlingly in person to hear how different his singing voice is from his speaking voice. He sings in a distinctive, nasal staccato. Speaking, he's pitched much deeper and drawls (drawls!).

Here's the setlist as stolen from the Mountain Goats website forums.

1 Samuel 15:23
Old College Try
Psalms 40:2
Isaiah 45:23
Deuteronomy 2:10
Enoch 18:14
Genesis 30:3
From TG&Y (solo)
Blueberry Frost (solo)
Mole (solo)
Dance Music (solo)
(Owen comes out)
Going to Bristol
(everyone else comes back)
Hebrews 11:14
(Owen leaves)
Song for Dennis Brown (& hilarious Dennis Brown anecdote)
Genesis 3:23
This Year
Ezekiel 7 And The Permanent Efficacy Of Grace
Romans 10:9
No Children (w/ Owen on piano)

Mostly songs from the newest album. Enoch 18:14 is a bonus track. 3 songs from The Sunset Tree, 3 from We Shall All Be Healed, 2 from Tallahassee, 1 each from two other albums, 1 unreleased.

A studio version of the unreleased song "From TG&Y" is on the internet and linked above. Enjoy. I'd say that the live version was better.

Turns out John Darnielle appeared on The Colbert Report last month. I missed it but here it is.



Sean did all the cooking including homemade bread and apple butter,
turkey legs, Brussels sprouts, two kinds of mashes potatoes, pumpkin pie, and fresh-made whipped cream.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Best Books of the Decade

The AV Club has been running a series of "Best of the 00's" listicles. Given how slow my rate of book reading has been since I became an adult, I was rather pleased to see that I'd read 5 of the 20 books on the fiction list for "The best books of the ’00s." And since even better than a listicle is a ranked listicle, I thought I'd better order that subset of books:

1.) Never Let Me Go

I try to review the books I read at Each book can be rated on a five star scale. None of the I've rated so far have reached 5 stars. Never Let Me Go is the fabled 5 star worthy book. It's incredibly difficult to talk about this book without giving away the plot; I'm not going to even try. It's very short. It's easy to read. But it's impossible to put away. I think that the works of art I appreciate the most are those that strive to be the simplest. It's why Spirited Away is my favorite Miyazaki film.

I read this book in one sitting from 8pm to 4 am or so. Then I crawled into bed and stared at the ceiling and thought about it.

2.) Middlesex & 3.) The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay

I really love The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay, but Middlesex may be a little better. Kavalier & Clay is a fantastic story set about the "Golden Age" of comic books -- before, during, and after World War II. It's the kind of book you wish you were talented enough to write, the kind of book the grown-up version of any book-obsessed kid would have to love. I was in the Canary Islands when I read it (the Canary Islands!), and I'd steal some time after lunch to go back to my hotel room to finish reading it. With its pulp influences, it's a great story.

Middlesex is a great story too: like Kavalier & Clay it's about family, adventure, and the making of Americans with a historical setting. But it's one that that seems so real and yet so unique that I could never have conceived of it as a kid. I had to read the book first.

4.) Gilead

I read this book while severely jet-lagged and I remember thinking it was very good, but I'm not sure I found it particularly original or unmissable.

5.) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Of the 2000s Harry Potter books, I'm not sure I'd pick this one as the best. Way better than The Order of the Phoenix, probably a little better than The Deathly Hallows. But I seem to have very fond memories of The Goblet of Fire. What do you guys think?

By the way, most of these I reviewed on goodreads and Eugene wrote a whole bunch on Never Let Me Go at his blog.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

This Morning

I saw this when I came in this morning. I share the office with a
grad student though. I guess grad students don't merit name plates.