Live Review

The Mountain Goats & Final Fantasy, Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, MN

Owen Pallet comes onstage to a rousing applause…

A sold out crowd gathers in Minneapolis for a performance featuring the stark, honest songwriting of both opener Owen Pallett and Final Fantasy, as well as John Darnielle and the Mountain Goats. Both bands are known for their creative arrangements and insightful, penetrating lyrics, and all are on full display this evening as both groups easily win over the 600 or so people lucky enough to witness the raw emotion and prodigious showmanship that both bands display during their engaging sets.

Owen Pallet comes onstage to a rousing applause, asking the crowd if we ‘want to hear some new songs or old songs? New songs… that’s what I heard,’ smirking because a lot of the crowd indeed ask to hear older material. But no matter, with a new record coming out in 2010, Pallett has a lot of songs to choose from, and all of them are intricate and incredible. He layers his violin sound so elaborately, starting an arrangement and moving on to the next piece so quickly, entwining what you just heard within the lush, feverish orchestration he currently is playing. His pizzicato violin work is whimsical and imaginative all evening, augmented on some tracks by a guitarist/percussionist by the name of Thomas, who adds yet another layer of sound to Pallett’s majestic tones. With a lesser artist, these types of musical theatrics could all go horribly wrong or sound artificial and heartless, but under Pallett’s gifted hands, these songs truly soar, imbued with a heart and a spirit that enraptures the attentive audience.

Along with a large batch of new songs that made up more than half of Final Fantasy’s 40-minute set, Pallett also plays some old favorites, including a stunning version of ‘He Poos Clouds,’ and the rarity ‘That’s When The Audience Died,’ which Pallett admits to not having played in a very long time. Pallett proves to be quite an affable front man, apologizing for the bad show he put on the last time he was in Minneapolis, claiming that ‘I go around the world apologizing for the last show I played in that city.’ He also jokingly claims, after announcing that ‘The CN Towers Belong To The Dead’ will be the last song of the evening, that he is now going to ‘go backstage and have a drink, and get raging drunk and come out and ruin the Mountain Goats set.’ But, after setting up the audience so well with his heartfelt and passionate songs, there is no way Pallett could do anything to ruin this evening.

The Mountain Goats’ performance only adds to the majesty of the evening, with the four-piece band playing an energetic, emotional set that finds Darnielle equal parts entertaining front man and compelling storyteller, often providing the crowd with insight to a song by introducing it with a witty anecdote. A lot of the set draws from the band’s brilliant new album ‘The Life Of The World To Come,’ with those songs taking on an invigorated spirit in the live setting, compared to the more sedate recorded versions. The band delve deeply into Darnielle’s lengthy songbook, with a rollicking version of ‘Letter From Belgium’ and ‘Evening In Stalingrad’ being early standouts. And even though Darnielle worries about ‘pandering to an audience’ that request he play ‘Minnesota,’ he plays a solo version of it anyway, delivering a fiery, spirited rendition that truly is galvanizing. Owen Pallett joins Darnielle on stage for a staggering, tender version of ‘Genesis 30:3,’ as well as a fervent performance of ‘Orange Ball Of Hate.’ And, when the rest of the band miss their cue to return to the stage, the two of them play an impromptu rendition of ‘Going To Bristol,’ with John only providing the vocals over Pallett’s vibrant violin.

Darnielle is smiling and energetic throughout the band’s performance, providing even more vitality to songs already brimming with life, and the set proves to be a celebration of that spirit, especially on storming versions of ‘Psalms 40:2’ and ‘Lovecraft In Brooklyn.’ And after a satisfying three song encore that closes with a crowd singalong on the redemptive ‘This Year,’ everyone thinks the show is over and files to the exit. But Darnielle has one last surprise for us as he returns to the stage for what he calls a ‘bonus track, which, as you know, can either be good or bad.’ He says the band is tempted to open each of their shows with this song, but he needs help with the words, and figures the Minneapolis crowd would know the song better than most. And with that, Darnielle tears into a solo, acoustic version of the Hold Steady classic ‘Positive Jam,’ with the crowd singing along and helping him with any forgotten lyrics. It’s a wonderfully unifying way to end one of the best shows I’ve seen this year.

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