like a trashcan fire in a prison cell;
Gah, you don’t need to lecture me about my carbon footprint – I already feel a little dirty every time I step off the plane at Stansted. You all know I prefer cross-country train journeys, and if I wasn’t having to watch the pennies so closely that would be my travel method of choice every time. It is a little pathetic that flying to London is usually the cheaper option.
Every time I fly with Ryanair I make the same promise to myself that it will be for the last time. Their budget service is the equivalent of a free iPhone app*: you’re bombarded with constant reminders to upgrade for any more than the bare minimum of functionality, and there’s no way to turn off the adverts – for J2O, for inflight mobile use and for the smokeless cigarettes which are their latest wheeze, if you just can’t survive the forty minutes in the air without a nicotine fix. I refuse to pay for speedy boarding or a carry-on bag, but if somebody was to invent an ad blocker for the human mind that’s one upgrade you could sign me up for.
*Incidentally, I am now working for a certain consumer electronics retailer but don’t worry; I guarantee that no more shoehorned tech references will appear on this blog than usual.
Oh but it was worth it to celebrate ten years with my other other half; and to have her introduce me to House in much the same way as she once introduced me to The West Wing only with more sneezing, thanks to an ill-timed allergy attack; and to catch up too briefly with Stevie and with Kaite and with Jo; and to wander across the bridge to the South Bank with the lights of the city shimmering in the river below; and of course – to see the Mountain Goats.
Right from the beginning the Queen Elizabeth couldn’t have felt more like another world, with its huge comfy seats and selection of organic snacks for purchase. Unfortunately the 7:30pm start time printed on our tickets actually meant a 7:30pm start time and not the usual stand-around-waiting, first-act-maybe-on-about-8:30pm formula, and so we missed the first half of Sondre Lerche’s acoustic set. In similar vein to the free show I saw at World Cafe (and which he said he remembered me from!) he took the opportunity to showcase some of the stronger tracks from Heartbeat Radio, interspersed with his usual charming, self-deprecating banter, before finishing with a rousing “Two Way Monologue” – the song that put him on my radar in the first place. Oh Sondre, you sweet, lovely man. If you were an ice cream flavour (dulce de Lerche?) I would eat you all up.
Lola had somehow managed to score us close to the best seats in the house, and we curled up in anticipation of the main event. “You know how sometimes you’re just in the right headspace to hear a particular artist?” she had said to me earlier, and I know that some of John’s song selections were right on the money. The more polished surroundings were always going to make this a very different concert experience from the last time I saw the Mountain Goats, but there’s nobody like John Darnielle to cast quite such a spell over a room. Looking for all the world like a cross between a preacher and my high school English teacher, he took his seat by the piano to rapturous applause. “I don’t often get the chance to do this,” he said, before quietly opening with “Thank You Mario, But Our Princess Is In Another Castle” from last year’s tour EP.
The auditorium might have lacked the intimacy of the Oran Mor show at least in terms of dimensions, but you could have heard a pin drop (or a camera shutter fire) as a voice familiar to me as my own performed tracks from his Biblically-themed new album interspersed with favourites from his extensive back catalogue. Despite the awestruck, respectful silence which Darnielle was given to perform in whispers and screams, little explosions of hand movements (as he put it himself) wringing desperate notes from his acoustic guitar until its very strings broke, each selection was met with rapturous applause as though it was his last. “I’m here so seldom that I want to play the songs I know you want to hear,” he told us; and although we were denied “No Children” as he had left the “little machine” needed to perform it behind, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Outta Denton” was an ample substitute. “Hail Satan!” we bellowed on invitation, rounding off an evening of the sacred and profane.