This morning, I did something that I probably should have done days ago: I queued up behind the junkies receiving their methadone at the chemist in the train station to find out from a pharmacist how best to treat that wound of mine. The verdict? Despite appearances, it was healing up nicely. So there you go.
I’m exhausted today, but I can’t blame it on a late night. Sorry Micah P. Hinson, but I’d only had four hours sleep and I think so many of us last night were only there for one thing. It was only a few months ago my partner in superfandom and I were drawing up fantasy Mountain Goats setlists, but even in my wildest dreams – a Glasgow tourdate, the way things were going! – I could never have imagined a gig as perfect as last night’s.
Doors, we had been assured on our e-tickets, were for 6:30 to give all the bands enough time to play. We headed out straight after work, so were freezing at the front of a modest queue from 6:05. Although the inaugural Pineapple Folk Yuletide Gathering boasted an amazing lineup, there was only one name on everybody’s lips.
Lovely Emmy The Great, whose own dates I keep missing, was on first. Tell me Emmy, how do you keep your voice so delicate and beautiful, clear as a little bell, even in a live setting where others would strain and crack? It’s an acoustic set, which leaves Euan the Scottish Violinist with very little to do. “Has he forgotten his lines?” Kate giggles when she rushes to the front, a little late, in her fabulous green coat. The harmonies when they come though, from he and the Other Euan (who sometimes plays mandolin, and is rather handsome) are beautiful – reverent and appropriately church-like.
Emmy does not play “Canopies and Grapes”, which is one of the best songs by anybody ever, but she does play “City Song” and “Gabriel” and other things I don’t know but which are very pretty and make the audience – inching forward slowly – giggle and love her.
The venue starts to fill up a bit more after Emmy has finished, which means that her little songs are not forced to compete with the Curse of the Oran Mor for attention. Alasdair Roberts does not fare so well. I seem to moan about this too much, but the West End’s converted church and performance space would be such a lovely venue if it wasn’t for the amount of chatter coming from the bar which you can hear over all but the loudest songs. I have enough faith in human nature to assume that this is to do with the acoustics of the building, and not because everybody in G12 is an arsehole.
I press forward to be able to hear Alasdair better, although I don’t think he’s particularly bothered about the noise. He sings like a man out of space and time; his gentle, reedy folk the songs of fairies and ancient kings and a Scotland long gone. Towards the end his guitar begins to scream as if possessed, a drawn-out storm of distortion. “I’m glad he finished when he did,” I say to Kate when the clapping subsides, “because how could you follow that?!”
Perhaps with my favourite band. My family and colleagues sneer because they say I’m too ready with that title, but come on: if a band merits its own tag on this blog, it must be pretty special (no prizes for guessing the other four acts who get that honour).
John is very small, and very expressive, and looks, says Kate, just like you’d expect him to look if you didn’t already know him. Peter Hughes on bass is very tall, and wears very nice waistcoats. They come out to wild applause, but the first song is “It Froze Me” so quiet, quiet and for the first time in my experience the Oran Mor shuts the fuck up and there’s nothing in the room but the music.
But it doesn’t last long, and nor should it. The Mountain Goats’ music can be many things – simple, powerful, magical, lyrical, angry – but what it always is is communal. And we oblige. We scream. We clap. We yell out the refrains. We are almost as joyful as our hero onstage, with whom I share a tender moment during a tumultuous “No Children”: we bellow I hope we both die!! into each other’s faces. I feel sure I must have dreamed it – doesn’t everybody imagine the singer sings your favourite line directly to you? – but at the end of the set he leans down and hands the setlist directly to me with a smile and I swear he’s just killed me.
And then he’s back, grabbing Kate by the face and telling her that he’ll be her best houseguest before he pulls a handful of my hair and brings the point home. Stage left, a guy with an SLR camera aims for some amazing close-range photos but he’s spotted too quickly and instead finds himself seduced, implored by a singer almost on his knees. The photographer wouldn’t have traded. None of us would have.
And so, right at the death, the Hold Steady lose out on Last Year’s Girl’s prestigious “gig of the year” award. It remains to be seen whether the Bootleg Beatles – a very late birthday present for my brother – make it a double tonight. I’m not holding my breath. “From the sublime to the ridiculous,” as somebody said last night.