The Mountain Goats / The New Pornographers
There was no opening band.
Okay technically the Mountain Goats opened for the New Pornographers, but if you know the Mountain Goats you immediately realize how ridiculous that concept is. Both bands are undisputed headliners, both have seriously devoted followers. It was a lineup that made for a high-spirited evening that came roaring out of the starting blocks.
I generally don't like Mac Hall all that much; it's acoustically challenged and one generally spends most of the night trying to peer past the eight-foot tall guys who keep wandering back and forth. But probably one of the most annoying things about the venue is that the doors tend to open well over an hour before the first band ever takes to the stage, where they play a short set, and then you wait for over an hour again till the next band takes the stage. It's a strategy to get bums into the beer garden, I guess. Which exacerbates the issue of the wandering eight-foot guys, who have a tendency to drink until the headliner starts, at which point they pour their eight-foot selves out of the beer garden en mass.
But on Monday night, I was pleased to see that the floor was inordinately full even while the stage was still dark and empty. Which is as it should be, because anybody who stayed in the beer garden while the Mountain Goats played is an idiot.
I forget which song the Mountain Goats opened with, but it was a furiously spirited number that belied the image that the fresh-faced trio in nice suits and ties presented. He looks like he's going to a job interview, was Jeff's observation. I was Goats smitten.
Through a 45 minute set, which featured a solo mini-set by John Darnielle sandwiched between rollicking offerings from the full band, the Mountain Goats put forth and received back a whole lot of love from a highly appreciative audience. Thank you for coming to Calgary! was the heartfelt shout from one audience member, that I think we all silently echoed. It was a set filled with furious guitar riffs, heartfelt acoustic poems, and slightly awkward but oh so sweet between song ramblings.
I'm so glad that I picked up their 2004 We Shall All be Healed album at the concert, because I have been listening to it non-stop ever since.
For the New Pornographers' set, Susan and Jeff moved away from our established territory at side of the hall by the gates to vie for a more optimal spot in the centre of the floor. The Spousal Unit and I opted for the comfort of a wall to lean against and a great sightline of most of the stage, with limited opportunity for the gaggle of eight-footers to move in.
What can I say about a New Pornographers show that I haven't already said many times before? They always put on a strong show, and when they have the full band in attendance as they did on Monday night (only the second time I have seen the full lineup), they are a force of nature. Because of course nobody can perform a Dan Bejar song like Dan Bejar (is that guy ever sober?) and nobody puts the power in power-pop like Neko Case and her huge pipes.
My only real beef was with the muddiness of the sound, which I think was due to the fact that we were sort of tucked in behind one bank of speakers. This wasn't an issue during the Mountain Goats set, but the New Pornos are such a huge band that they are going to challenge the integrity of any speaker placement.
The New Pornographers' set, although musically strong, often felt a little disorganized, with false starts, forgotten lyrics, and a fair bit of meandering about stage. But Calgary was the first stop on their North American tour, so maybe they were still shaking the bugs out.
Sing Me Spanish Techno was a great choice with which to open the set, and throughout the night the New Pornos interspersed selections from their new album with lots of fan favourites. I was really pleased that they performed Adventures in Solitude - one of my favourites, as well as crowd pleasers like Bleeding Heart Show, Myriad Harbour, and Slow Descent into Alcoholism.
It was a fun set. A spirited debate sprang up amongst the band following the "you are all hot!" shout-out from someone in the crowd, which morphed into accusations that there were photos of Kurt Dahle sporting a mullet in his mom's basement. At one point, Dan Bejar handed Carl Newman a bottle of beer, which he eyed suspiciously, speculated as to whether it was in fact Dan's urine, noted that there was no blood in it, and with a shrug, drank it.
And if that wasn't enough, they ended the night with Mass Romantic.