John Vanderslice / Mountain Goats / Knitting Factory / Nov. 6, 2002

FOREWORD: Lyrical indie rock singer-songwriter John Vanderslice and Mountain Goats’ bard John Darnielle hooked up for this snug Tribeca concert during ’02. By ’04, Darnielle had hired Vanderslice to produce ‘04s We Shall All Be Healed. The next two Mountain Goats albums, ‘05s recommended The Sunset Tree, and ‘06s lesser Get Lonely, continued to unload hauntingly autobiographical retreats. I’m less familiar with ‘08s Heretic Pride.

As for Vanderslice, he went on to make several conceptualist albums, such as ‘04s Cellar Door, ‘05s instrumentally expansive Pixel Revolt, and Iraq War protestation, Emerald City. ‘09s Romanian Names is yet to be perused. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.

A polished cut above contemporary lo-fi bedroom recorders, San Francisco troubadour John Vanderslice and Iowa-based John Darnielle (Mountain Goats principal) sketch earnest minimalist folk for their growing minions. Looking dapper despite unkempt crops of dyed blonde hair, humble Vanderslice warmed up the sweaty, packed Knitting Factory with a reliable set of efficiently revelatory charmers.

Backed by former MK Ultra partner, bassist Dan Carr (Creeper Lagoon), drummer Christopher Mc Guire (Kid Dakota), and an off-stage sound booth sampler, Vanderslice alternated between acoustic and electric guitar. His flickering songs lost none of their emotional intensity, haunting anxiety, or conviction in live performance. He neatly contrasted ever-changing moods and abrupt tempo shifts, never getting overly sedate or conversely, too unsettled. In support of his critically acclaimed Life And Death Of An American Fourtracker, the veritable handyman brought an unerring honesty to bittersweet fare such as the neo-orchestral “Me And My 424,” the burbling earthy dreamscape “Under The Leaves,” and the reserved dirge “The Mansion” (with its nifty sampled South of the Border horns).

Bloomington, Indiana-born, California-raised Mountain Goats curator John Darnielle applied his expressive high-pitched baritone to Gaelic-tinged Anglo-acoustic songs, contributing whimsical between-song quips. His half-spoken vocal inflections straddled between urgent Billy Bragg insistence (minus the politics) and abstract Tim Buckley surrealism (sans weird eccentricities). Before bassist Peter Hughes came aboard to accompany the confident acoustic strummer, Darnielle broke out five resplendent postcard narratives full of everyday observations and imagery-laden vistas. With Hughes in tow, he spanned the Mountain Goats sprawling catalogue of terse trinkets going all the way back to ‘95s Sweden album. Some were thrifty openhearted love letters glimpsing into the artists’ fascinating trivialities and minor insecurities. He kept the audience in suspense with the solemn title track to his latest release, Tallahassee, then closed with another Florida-bound treasure, the UK-only single “See America Right,” a perilous post-jail fable about “driving up from Tampa.”

You could comfortably place these intelligent poet-lyricists next to convincing though less colorful, less charismatic, and drier DIY brethren Smog (Bill Callahan), Palace Music (Will Oldham), or Mark Eitzel. But I’d bet if you asked either one, ‘60s luminaries Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and the above-mentioned Buckley inspired them more.

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