I found this magazine in Prestwick Airport, of all places, on my way down to London yesterday. It’s exactly the sort of magazine I would make if I was going to make a magazine, which on one level is a little depressing – because I’m not making a magazine – but on another is just really, really great: it’s full of polaroids and recipes and memories and postcards and chats over tea with Emmy the Great. And interviews where brilliant people who curate exhibitions and start record labels and turn “missed connections” personals into artworks say vaguely inspirational things that make me want to write, like Open yourself to things that you may not readily come across. Do the things you think you can’t do. You have a choice what you expose yourself to.
I try to do that with music. Oh sure, I have my “type” with their plaid shirts and their facial hair, but I’ll give everything a go once as the contents of my iTunes library is frequently testament to. I’ll pretend I’m not pigeonhole-able; even if, girl, you know it’s true. Just because I haven’t heard of the support band doesn’t give me a reason to write them off from the outset. Just because one man and a keyboard makes prominent use of indecipherable vocals and a video backdrop doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be dreadful. A cursory websearch reveals, in fact, that Chad Valley is the frontman with Jonquil. I’ve heard something by them! I… took it off my iTunes yesterday…
…and wait, is that video backdrop showing a bunch of turtles swimming about?
This is probably why I shouldn’t go to gigs with my best friend. We’ve had a cocktail over dinner and have spent the past hour and a half making fun of just about everybody else we know. Lola sighs expansively. “So, in summary,” she says, “it’s a fat guy making sex faces and playing keyboard samples while the Windows screensaver runs in the background. I tried to get into it, but I keep thinking about Ross in Friends. I’m expecting dogs barking and lasers any moment.”
The video backdrop now shows skinny girls in skimpy bikinis giggling under the same water the turtles were occupying earlier. If you’re going to put some models on display, you can kiss your worthy indie credentials goodbye.
Sometimes you’re in that certain “zone”, sometimes you’re not. I keep thinking of this one time Helen and I went to see Josh Ritter at the QMU. Josh Ritter, you know, he ticks all my boxes. He wrote that one song, you know, ‘The Temptation of Adam’; and he’s guarding over this missile silo with this girl with the exotic half of my name and the nuclear apocalypse could be raging outside and he wouldn’t care, because he’s with her. All the tenderness and perfection in a line like I never had to learn to love her like I learned to love the bomb… and instead Helen and I spend the night drinking Goldschläger and giggling up the back and I don’t remember a damn thing about it. It’s appropriate, then, that tonight I see Helen for the first time in about two years, and Jo, even if the heat and the haze and my rising feelings of sickness mean it’s not for long. Seriously, indie kids of Camden? Deodorant is not selling out. Nirvana even wrote a song about the bloody stuff.
But I don’t need to be “on” for the Mountain Goats; for John Darnielle, arguably the greatest lyricist of our generation, taking to his pulpit and wailing my house will be for all people who have no place to go like some demented preacher. This is the first time I have caught the Mountain Goats as a trio; John and long-term collaborator the extremely tall and extremely dapper Peter Hughes on bass joined by Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster making for a very different experience than the rather sedate, seated piano-led performance of The Life of the World To Come Lola and I saw last year. With a three-piece band behind them, these songs now pack a punch with a force – and by contrast, a tenderness – far beyond that latest biblical-themed record. Hearing ‘Old College Try’ rocked out like that, in second place on the setlist… well. “Fuck me,” I whisper. It’s one of my favourite Darnielle songs, right up there with most of All Hail West Texas. It, to me, is the sound of the love you stick with; messed up and beautiful and as it really is not as how the storybooks tell it. I wanted to play it at my wedding, until I realised that it wasn’t a song that had any emotional significance for my husband and I as a couple. There are some things you just gotta hold on to because you never know when you’re going to need them.
Tonight’s setlist takes most of its cues from the songs that sound as if Darnielle, in character, is having a full-on breakdown; many of which fall within the realm of my favourites. He introduces songs about “things that you infuse too much of yourself into”, and screams the line from ‘Psalms 40:2’ that gives me shivers. He plays ‘Shower’, an outtake from The Coroner’s Gambit he banks on none of us having heard, and ‘The Day The Aliens Came’ and ‘Love Love Love’. I’m so glad you came to our show, and in gratitude I’m going to play you another song about drug addicts and the terrible things they do to each other, he says as he introduces ‘Your Belgian Things’. ‘Going To Georgia’ sounds strange as a full band number, but not as strange as when I belt out ‘This Year’ (“those of you who know what this song is about… know what this song is about”) and realise that for the first time in my life since that particular song has been in it I have made it to September without feeling the need to scream its refrain to get me out of the house in the morning.
And we have no fewer than three encores, continuing even after the houselights go up because “we are extremely vain and conceited people”, with the obligatory screamalongs to “No Children” and “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Outta Denton” and something that sounds so suspiciously like the chords to “London Calling” I thought I was gonna die right there on the spot.
It hits me as I leave that, having also seen Sleater-Kinney and the Hold Steady there, I have spent more great nights in Koko than I have many similar venues in Glasgow. There’s a nook in those red-painted walls that’s beginning to feel like a home away from home.